April 12, 2024

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office program allows emergency responders to call healthcare providers for assistance with calls

Since December, Clark County sheriff’s deputies have had a new partner in addressing mental health needs — the source of many of their calls for services.

The agency’s Co-Responder Program allows deputies to call on Sea Mar’s mental health providers when they encounter someone who could benefit from treatment services, housing assistance, counseling and other assistance. The providers offer their expertise, while officers ensure that everyone stays safe and can take action if someone breaks the law.

The sheriff’s office says the partnership is part of a national effort to bring law enforcement together with mental health providers. The partnership also aims to free up time for deputies, both by allowing deputies to move on after a call and by reducing the chance of being called again for the same issue once the person gets the help they need. need.

In the first 90 days of the program, 47 calls were referred to peer responders. More than half of these turned to outreach. According to the sheriff’s office, the average time from the start of the call to the arrival of a provider on scene was 30 minutes.

Laura Nichols, Sea Mar’s behavioral health program manager, said in an email to The Columbian that the provider’s motivation for partnering with the sheriff’s office was to support deputies as they interact with people experiencing a mental health crisis.

“We want to make sure that when someone is experiencing a psychotic episode, a mental health crisis, feeling suicidal or extremely lonely, they know that someone cares,” Nichols said.

While officers are still getting used to having Sea Mar providers at their disposal, Sgt. Fred Neiman said they regularly benefit from the providers’ expertise. Officers can also connect family members or other loved ones of people in crisis with mental health providers.

“There is a large percentage of our requests for help that there is an underlying behavioral health issue — whether it’s mental health, homelessness or substance abuse,” Neiman said. “So we really see this as an opportunity to undertake interventions that are more than just criminal interventions.”

Connecting local resources

Sergeant Adam Beck pointed out an all-too-familiar situation officers recently faced. They arrested a suspect on charges of domestic violence. But with their partner going to prison, the victim didn’t know where to stay or what to do next. So officers called Sea Mar’s mental health providers.

“Their lives had changed a little bit,” Beck said of the victim. “And in the past, that would have been a situation where a deputy would try to help them, maybe get them a hotel, and that would be about it.

“And in this situation, we could call the co-responders, make a connection, talk about resources, and then the co-responders could also reach out to that person throughout the week and help them get their lives back on track, or at least have a plan for the future,” Beck said.

The sergeant said it was rewarding to know officers could ensure the person was better supported.

There are a variety of resources in the area, Beck said, and it can be difficult for deputies to know which services are most beneficial for each person’s situation and how to best direct them to get help.

“Deputies deal with people in crisis quite often and are good at talking to people and trying to solve problems, but they really don’t have the mental health training that the mobile crisis units have, and they not as much contact … with local resources,” Beck said.

Carelon Behavioral Health is funding the program, with the financial assistance of Clark County’s mental health sales tax. The Clark County Council recently allocated the funds.

Challenges, long-term goals

Sea Mar officials hope they can provide more services to the community and a better understanding of mental health challenges in the field, said Behavioral Health Clinical Supervisor Shahna Creagan.

“This also reduces the vicarious and secondary trauma that first responders experience – by having us on the scene to respond and assist them,” Creagan said.

One of the biggest challenges the co-response team faced during the 90-day period is that most services are closed outside of regular business hours.

“Our teams see a gap in care around the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Many homeless teams have been established to meet people’s needs; however, all of these programs operate primarily during the day,” Creagan said.

“This means we can’t help someone at midnight who is cold, wet and has no place to seek shelter,” Creagan continued. “There is a tremendous need for homeless services available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we can imagine a world where these are embedded in our province’s crisis system.”

Get some help

If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, community resources can be reached at 988 on the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or through the Southwest Washington Crisis Line at 1-800-626-8137.

Nichols said she knows the sheriff’s office receives a high volume of mental health-related calls, but not all calls reach the threshold of a true mental health crisis.

“We have been working with (deputies) to do our best to expand our scope of services we provide to bridge the gap for the community and ensure individual needs are met,” Nichols said.

Other regional examples

This is not the first partnership of its kind in the region.

The Vancouver Police Department has been working with Sea Mar for about four years. According to Sea Mar, the healthcare provider also began working with Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue in the summer of 2023.

The sheriff’s office has modeled its program in part after Vancouver’s to take a standard approach.

But Beck said the sheriff’s office has made some changes. For example, he said the county’s partnership with Sea Mar allows mental health providers to make outbound calls to people who have contacted the sheriff’s office.

“We identified a need where a deputy or a fellow responder may not need or wouldn’t respond in a situation, but maybe someone could benefit from a phone call,” Beck said.

If the program continues to be a success, the sheriff’s office hopes to expand it, both in terms of the hours it is accessible and the frequency of referrals.

“We are fortunate in this area to have a lot of good community resources in behavioral health,” Neiman said. “I think one of the goals, at least in my mind, of the program is to utilize more of those resources or to connect people to more of those resources that may have a positive impact on their lives.”

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