Summit County: clinicians, not cops, should respond to mental health crises
Summit County might be soon getting a new tool to aid its effort to increase access to behavioral health services countywide.
Starting this fall, a new program aims to treat a person experiencing a mental health crisis with trained mental health clinicians rather than law enforcement officers.
The clinicians, in teams of two, would head out in the field to meet people where they are experiencing crisis and divert the case from the law enforcement system. A third team member, a psychiatrist with admitting privileges at local hospitals, would serve as the medical authority and be located off site.
The mobile crisis outreach team would be based in Park City and cover Wasatch County and Summit County. It is funded through a $500,000 state grant and may begin this November.
The goal, said County Councilor Roger Armstrong, is to steer behavioral health issues into the health care system rather than the law enforcement one and to avoid having jails serve as the primary means of providing mental health services.
“This is one of those prime examples of being able to take the appropriate services and put a behavioral health person in front of somebody in a mental health crisis that absent that support could wind up going to jail, prison or not getting the services that they need and, in worst-case scenarios, exposing law enforcement and the person that’s in crisis to potentially a far greater harm than they might otherwise (experience),” he said. “It’s a remarkable opportunity for us and I endorse it 100%.”
Summit County Behavioral Health Director Aaron Newman told the County Council that studies continue to show the efficacy of similar programs. He said people who have undergone mental health crises in areas that do not have these programs are 50% more likely to harm themselves in the month after an interaction.
Newman explained that the team members are akin to EMTs who respond to mental health crises and estimated that the team would be able to handle 80% of the mental health calls received by law enforcement personnel.
Summit County Sheriff’s deputies responded to 187 mental health incidents in 2019, Newman reported, and he estimated the new program could divert nearly 150 of those calls.
According to a report that accompanied Newman’s presentation, law enforcement personnel would initially accompany the clinicians on calls to assure their safety and would in most cases leave once the situation had been stabilized.
The Katz Amsterdam Foundation is providing $25,000 to help the first six months of operation and Wasatch and Summit counties are providing in-kind rather than monetary contributions, like purchasing a staff vehicle and providing office space.
Newman said the goal of the program is simple.
“Every response doesn’t require someone going to the jail or to the ER or to go to (a hospital) down in Salt Lake,” he said. “A lot of these situations can be handled with a trained professional where they’re at. … They do increase the diversion from those high-cost treatment options.”
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