County hopes to revive Visual Observation Specialist program

By Barbara Anne Greene

At the May 7 meeting of the Big Horn County Commission, there was discussion about bringing back the Visual Observation Specialist (VOS) program.
Big Horn County Prevention Coordinator Travis Sylvester appeared via Zoom. Through this program, trained specialists take turns sitting with people who are being held either voluntarily or involuntarily at local hospitals because of suicide risk.
The program was started in the county years ago in response to a need to keep people who are in crisis out of a jail setting.  
Sylvester said the program saves lives and money. There are grants available to the county to pay for training. This would include the trainer, the venue and a meal.
In the past, there were issues getting the specialist paid in a timely manner. Sylvester’s presentation gave an example on how to remedy this. One possible way to pay for this portion of the program was memorandums of understandings with local health care partners. Another way would be grants.
The commissioners by consensus agreed to have  Sylvester work towards reinvigorating the program. There will be opportunities for people to sign up and be paid for their service.
More information is available at www.  
Sheriff Ken Blackburn asked if two of the extra county vehicles could be assigned to the sheriff’s office for detention staff to drive from Lovell to Basin. He would prefer all the staff live in the south end of the county.  However, there is no affordable housing available and some can only afford one vehicle. The staff would pay for the fuel. The county would pay for insurance and maintenance.
“This would allow some of these families which are basically at poverty level to be able to have a mechanism to get back and forth and only have to maintain one (personal) vehicle for insurance. There are seven staff commuting at this time.”  Two vehicles are needed, per Blackburn, because of different shifts.
Commissioner Neves asked how it was fair to the rest of the employees in the county who also commute. Blackburn responded “I don’t know. I’m coming to you. Whatever we decide. Of course I have ownership with it because I want to take care of my deputies (detention) but if we don’t, then we will just have to adjust accordingly with everything.” He recognized that staff from other county departments are expected to travel to Basin.
He continued that the biggest issue is with dispatchers, not the deputies.  Blackburn continued that he hopes that there will be a dispatch center again in Lovell at the annex.
The sheriff then stated, “I understand what I am asking. I’m not asking for favors. What I am saying is, I just lost one to the oil field from detention. I can barely keep staff as it is now. I’m at the serious point of having to look at some real drastic decisions.”
He went on to say that he had done away with the physical fitness standards because it wasn’t fair to everyone in the county. He doesn’t have a good answer for the commissioners. The center must function 24/7. The commissioners said they would take it under advisement.
An executive session was requested by Sheriff Ken Blackburn and County Attorney Marcia Bean to discuss potential litigation.
• The Sand Draw Cemetery property ownership was discussed.
• Brent Yorgason asked for clarification on street width and the county’s right- of-ways in Otto.
 • A liquor license transfer public hearing was held for Wyoming High Country.
• The commissioner scholarship applications were reviewed and designated.
• A department update was given for the facilities department by Jeremy Pouska.
• Paul Thur and Stephanie May gave the airport and land planning department updates.