ROCKFORD — A pilot program designed to help people in the midst of mental health crisis is expanding just seven months after its inception.
The team, formed in late November, is a joint venture between Rockford, Winnebago County and Rosecrance Health Network, a regional provider of substance abuse and mental health services.
Team members include two Rockford police officers, a Winnebago County sheriff’s deputy and three Rosecrance clinicians who all work out of an office space in the Winnebago County Justice Center. The $2,046,826 grant will be used to add two more Rockford police officers, one Loves Park police officer, another deputy, and three more Rosecrance clinicians.
“We’re hoping with the expansion that this is going to increase the level of intervention that we can do,” said Erica Gilmore, director of the Rosecrance Mulberry Center and crisis team supervisor.
“We know that the need is there. We know that the community desperately needs help with the mental health side of things. And as the program is developing, we are seeing more and more what we can do.”
The program pairs a clinician and an officer together who work to link Winnebago County residents in need of mental health services with resources and ultimately reduce the number of 911 calls pertaining to mental health and substance abuse.
The team is in operation from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday. Each day, team members comb through 911 calls from the night before in search of suicidal or despondent individuals or someone who experienced a psychiatric episode. The teams then make a follow-up visit with those individuals to make sure that they are linked to services for treatment and medication.
Gilmore said transportation is the most common barrier for residents.
Gilmore recently tagged along with a team on a residential visit where a call to 911 was made involving alcohol and a domestic problem.
“We were following up to try to get that person into services for substance abuse treatment,” she said. “Unfortunately, the individual wasn’t there, but his mom was. She was so desperate to get help, but she had no idea how to help him. So, just being able to be there and to give her resources and to say, ‘Call us. We’ll help you.’ She was in tears. She was so relieved.”
While the vast majority of calls to police for people experiencing a mental health crisis end peacefully, some do end tragically.
Sheriff Gary Caruana said he likes the fact the program is more proactive than reactive.
“I’m really happy that the Mental Health Board saw the value in this program,” he said. “Everybody has been saying that law enforcement needs somebody who is trained for mental health issues and mental health crisis.”
Caruana said the participating officers are trained in crisis intervention, but the Rosecrance clinicians provide a higher level of service.
“I think this is a model moving forward where we can be proactive and where we’re not always in a crisis-type situation with a negotiator or SWAT,” he said. “If we can pre-empt that, I think everybody wins.”
Since its inception, the teams have made 1,503 interactions with the public, said Rosecrance Communications Specialist Matt Hawkins.
Loves Park Police Chief Chuck Lynde is encouraged by the early results of the program, so much so that he will be adding one his officers to the program in August thanks to the grant funding.
“I don’t have an exact percentage,” he said, “but I would say a very significant portion of our calls involve people who are struggling with mental health issues or are in a mental health crisis or are struggling with drug addiction.
“I’m anxious to see if we can get people in touch with or in programs that will help them live a healthier life and maybe prevent calls to law enforcement down the road.”
Gilmore said she would like to see the program continue to expand so that teams can be called upon 24/7.
“Behavioral health issues don’t stop just because it’s after hours or the weekend.”
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