MANSFIELD — Mansfield Police Capt. Chad Brubaker says law enforcement officers typically have three options when responding to a call about someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
If the person has violated the law, police can arrest them. If a person poses a threat to themselves or others, police can take them to a local hospital with or without their consent.
But in any other case, there isn’t much police officers can do.
Officers who are trained in crisis intervention can offer an empathetic ear and basic information on community resources, but they aren’t mental health professionals.
That’s why the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board is piloting a new approach to crisis intervention with the Mansfield Police Department.
The goal is to avoid hospitalization for people in crisis and connect them to resources.
Thanks to a $1.1 million grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS), a pair of mental health workers are now available to respond alongside law enforcement during calls involving a mental health issue.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a huge asset to our department,” Brubaker said.
Joe Trolian, executive director for the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, agreed.
“We’ve talked about having something formalized like this for years, we just really haven’t had the resources to do it,” he said. “So when this grant came along, this seemed to be the best time to put these things in place.”
Catalyst Life Services will have a two staff members on call seven days a week from 2 to 10 p.m. If Mansfield Police encounter a situation that calls for a mental health professional, the mobile crisis team will be dispatched to the scene.
“The MPD will arrive at a residence and they will make the decision,” said Laura Montgomery, CEO of Catalyst Life Services.
“If they feel that they could use a mental health therapist to support them based on what they find, they will reach out to us.”
The pilot program will last 18 months, but Trolian said he’d like to continue and grow the program afterwards.
His goal is expand the mobile crisis team’s hours and service area to include all of Richland County.
De-escalating at home
Catalyst currently sends employees to local emergency rooms if someone is hospitalized due to being suicidal, homicidal, delusional or psychotic.
But having professionals who can respond in a home or workplace setting could lead to better outcomes for people in crisis who don’t need hospitalization.
“We think at least half of these crisis calls can probably be de-escalated in the home,” Trolian said.
“If we can de-escalate them in the home, we’re taking the pressure off the police department. We’re taking the pressure off the emergency departments.”
Part of the grant will be used to purchase a vehicle for the mobile crisis team.
While the goal is to de-escalate in the home, Trolian said the crisis team will be able to transport citizens who are cooperative and need to be transferred to an emergency room or mental health urgent care.
“If police transport, based on policy and protocols, people have to be handcuffed to be back in the back of the car, creating a whole new trauma piece just for having a crisis,” Trolian said.
“We don’t want to continue to exacerbate the crisis or add to the crisis in the process of trying to de-escalate the crisis.”
Montgomery said the on-call team will consist of a therapist and support staff member, who could be trained in case management, social work or peer recovery support.
The team will operate out of Catalyst’s office and work on other tasks when not dispatched with police.
Trolian said the goal is to have a response time of less than 30 minutes.
According to Brubaker, the Mansfield Police Department worked with a mobile crisis team in the 1990s. It was discontinued after police officers left a mental health worker alone at the scene and the crisis worker was assaulted.
“This time around, none of the case workers or social workers will be left without an officer present,” Brubaker said.
The mobile crisis team also received safety training from Mansfield Police prior to the program’s inception.
A best practice model
Mobile crisis teams are becoming more common across Ohio and the United States. State and national mental health agencies are recommending the tool, along with crisis hotlines and stabilization units, as part of a crisis continuum model.
“Across Ohio, people of all ages and their families are seeking care in record numbers for substance use disorder and mental health concerns,” said Eric Wandersleben, a spokesperson for OhioMHAS.
Wandersleban said communities with robust crisis continuums see fewer people in jail, emergency rooms and inpatient hospitalization units as a result of behavioral health challenges.
Brubaker said other communities with mobile crisis teams have seen mental health calls to law enforcement decrease over time. It’s likely because those in crisis are connected with the help they need.
“It’ll keep (police) from going back over and over again, trying to solve a problem that we really don’t have the tools to solve,” he said.
Expanded hours at the mental health urgent care
The OhioMHAS grant also provides enough funding to expand the county’s behavioral health urgent care hours and services.
The facility is located at 741 Scholl Road in Mansfield. Appointments aren’t required.
The mental health urgent care is now open Tuesday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays. The clinic will also have a physician or nurse practitioner on staff part time.