In 2018, Carroll County will have a new, mobile crisis response unit for helping people in a mental health or substance abuse-related crisis, Veronica Dietz, director of crisis services at the Carroll County Health Department told the Board of Commissioners at the board’s Dec. 21 meeting.
Dietz was joined by Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer to brief the commissioners on the new service, which will launch on April 1, as well as existing resources for people with mental health emergencies. The new service will consist of a team of licensed social workers and peer counselors, as Singer previously told the Times.
“What they are hoping to do then is to respond in real time between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. to behavioral crisis in the community,” Dietz said. “They are anticipating a minimum of two calls each day.”
That’s not the shift initially anticipated, according to Singer, who told the commissioners that initially the Health Department assumed overnight services would be the most requested.
“I guess eventually everyone falls asleep,” he said. “The statistics from the hospital and other places showed the real need was during the daytime hours and into the evening.”
Operation of the mobile crisis unit will be contracted out to the Affiliated Sante Group, Dietz said, a nonprofit behavioral health services organization, which also provides crisis response services in Baltimore County, Prince George’s County and other Maryland jurisdictions as well as in North Carolina.
“They are providing these services in other counties and they are familiar with how to do this correctly,” Singer said. “The other counties are happy with the services they are receiving.”
Funding for the new service comes from the Maryland Opioid Operations Command Center, which recently awarded Carroll County $138,000 as part of $4 million allocated by Gov. Larry Hogan to help combat opioid addiction in the state.
The Affiliated Sante Group will also be responsible for crisis stabilization services, Dietz explained, which will help ensure people helped during a crisis continue to get the help they need and are bridged into other services.
“The crisis stabilization services allow for up to two visits to be sure that the original crisis is managed,” she said, “so the folks don’t respond and then two days later we find out they are in crisis again.”
Although the new mobile crisis unit will provide a service the Health Department has determined will go a long way toward mitigating addiction issues in the county, it will not stand a lone, but is instead just the newest piece of the crisis response infrastructure.
As Dietz explained to the commissioners, the Health Department collaborates with Access Carroll on the Urgent Care Program, with Access Carroll providing a part-time clinician to respond to mental health issues.
“Someone who is in need of medication or in need of linking to ongoing mental health services can make an appointment at Access Carroll with our urgent care specialist who will see them, provide a full psychosocial evaluation and then do some linking with doctors and practitioners at Access Carroll, for refills for medications.”
The new mobile crisis response unit will also work closely with the more than 40 law enforcement officers in the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, municipal police forces and the Carroll County Detention Center who have Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT training, Dietz said. Such officers take a voluntary 40-hour training course in learning to defuse and deescalate confrontations with people in the midst of a mental health crisis in order direct them to the services they need, rather than a set of handcuffs.
“I am just incredibly impressed with the people we get in our CIT program,” Dietz said. “They take this information and immediately use it. We had graduation on a Friday. By Monday I had a new referral in my office from a new CIT officer.”
“People in the community now know what a CIT officer is,” Singer added. “They will call and ask, ‘Hey, we have this issue — can you send a CIT officer as opposed to just sending the police?’ ”
Combined with the new mobile crisis response unit, CIT officers could help divert more people to help before mental health and/or substance abuse leads them into more trouble. That’s something Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, already a fan of the CIT program, would like to see more of.
“That is critically important to get that first line of intervention,” Wantz said at the commissioners’ Dec. 21 meeting. “When you can get them before they start going down the wrong path, man, that’s good stuff.”