Santa Barbara County achieves success with joint response mental health teams | Mental health care in crisis

Lenny Marcus came home from work one night nearly six years ago to find his adult son incoherent, sitting on the floor of his Julieta home surrounded by his vomit.

Marcus remembered how his son, who was 24 years old, could barely speak; He knew they would have to go to the hospital to have his son’s stomach pumped.

Sometime before driving to the hospital, law enforcement arrived and demanded that MPs take him to the hospital instead of taking him and his family.

Marcus remembers that night: “My son was drunk out of his mind, he was saying inappropriate things, and the cops got mad at him.”

He said law enforcement officers eventually agreed to follow the family to the hospital.

“They followed us to the hospital, and the cop was totally unfit,” Marcus said. “In the end, the hospital staff told the officer that he had to wait outside because he was causing problems between my son and the staff.”

Marcus said MPs have responded several times to his Winchester Canyon home, seeing a problem with his mentally ill son’s behavior when his son didn’t realize there was a problem himself.

“My wife was scared to death to call the police because she was afraid that they would come and shoot my son,” he said. You read about it in the newspaper all the time, people being shot by the police because they don’t realize they are mentally ill.

“Something a mentally ill person thinks isn’t a problem, the police think it is.”

This example was before Marcus took a file National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and was introduced to the Santa Barbara County Joint Response Teams, which are mating a behavioral wellness section A physician with a deputy law enforcement officer is specially trained to answer 9-1-1 calls related to a mental health crisis.

“The joint response is the best the boycott has ever done in my mind,” Marcus said. I am a firm believer in him. In my opinion, that’s the only thing the county has gotten right when it comes to mental illness.”

The JRT began as a pilot program in 2018 and was so successful that with grant funding for the pilot program running out in October, the county decided not only to continue funding it permanently, but to increase the number of staff to three teams.

In the joint response model, the deputy and physician work together on a 10-hour shift and respond to crisis calls with the goal of preventing unnecessary hospitalization or detention of the mentally ill in times of crisis.

“If a call comes in that appears to be mental health and not a crime, the team begins communicating with the individual to find out what is going on,” said Tony Navarro, director of the Department of Behavioral Health.

“They work with individuals to take them to a shelter, take them home, and make sure those individuals don’t go to prison.”

Teams have responded to 1,707 calls since the start of 2020. Only 3% have led to arrests, according to the data they obtained. Noozhawk.

Among the calls that teams responded to, 28% were cases in which the individual had experienced an offense that could be stopped. Of the total calls that teams responded to, 96% of arrests were diverted.

“Our goal here is to help them,” Navarro said. “For 40 years without this cooperation, people with a common disorder or mental illness have been imprisoned many times.”

The Marcus Family Joint Response Teams have responded multiple times since the family learned about the program. Once, Marcus’ son had a “real meltdown” in his room, taking a bat against the walls and screaming at the top of his voice.

“So I called 9-1-1 and asked for a joint response team,” he said. They came in three police cars, talked to (my wife and I) in the dining room and talked to my son outside.

“They simply spoke to him. They knew how to think with him and how to help him.”

The program is not just diverting people from prison when possible, but diverting them from the criminal justice system as a whole and redirecting them to the appropriate resources.

Just over 35% of JRT encounters were proactive and follow-up engagement with people with a history of mental illness.

Dr. Sherilyn Lee, Director of Behavioral Sciences Unit, Sharif Department.

“We have upgraded and adopted this amazing, evidence-based and sensible program in our community to make it work. Our job is not to punish people for having mental illness, our job is to provide support so they can live their lives outside the mental health system.”

While joint response teams have had proven success in Santa Barbara County, the behavioral health departments and the mayor have had to learn how to integrate the two different cultures to build this working relationship.

“Law enforcement and behavioral health departments have different cultures, so we really had to learn how to work with someone from a different culture,” said John Winkler, chief of crisis services in the Division of Behavioral Wellness.

“Because relationships are built, we’re on the mental health side really learning how to communicate better with law enforcement, so we don’t just feel like we’re riding in someone’s car — we’re in the car together.”

The job of law enforcement is public safety, and the job of behavioral wellness is personal safety, Lee explained, adding that these things sometimes conflict.

“Behavioral health tends to focus on the person, and law enforcement tend to focus on the situation and the world around them,” she said. “There will be some conflicting heads, but now we can agree to disagree, whereas before that we were just disagreeing.”

“There’s constant back and forth and learning and growth between teams, but we really need each other to be effective. It’s really encouraging because you’ve got psychologists talking and cops talking, and we’re starting to use the same languages. We’re light years ahead of most agencies, counties, and communities.”

Since there aren’t enough joint response teams to cover 24/7, the Department of Behavioral Wellness is looking at ways to expand the program, and hopes to add a fourth team in the near future, said Susan Grimesi, a spokeswoman for the department.

In some California jurisdictions, the joint response team also includes firefighters and paramedics, something the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Health is exploring, said John Doyle, assistant director of the department.

Some communities have excluded law enforcement from the joint response model entirely, but that’s not something the Department of Behavioral Health sees happening here.

“I am not going to take law enforcement out of the common response model,” Navarro said. “This is not going to happen in Santa Barbara, because I really see the safety value of having law enforcement around.

“Law enforcement gets a lot of training about the signs and symptoms and how to turn people on.”

agrees to me.

“I don’t think the partnership will ever be perfect, and I don’t think it should be,” she said. “But the fact that we’re doing it together is an integral part of the community, in the stories, the letters, and the thank-you notes.”

– Jade Martinez-Pogue is a Noozhawk Contributing writer. Se can be reached in . (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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