Norman’s two mobile crisis units |

As Norman City Council creates a new mobile crisis unit, local advocates question whether this will be an overlap of services with two existing units expected to expand, or whether it will create a new partnership. to improve care for drug addicts and the mentally ill.

Since July 2020, the council has asked city staff to consider developing their own mobile crisis unit to respond to non-emergency, mental health and addiction-related calls for help. To date, the board has set aside $ 1.1 million to create one, The Transcript reported.

the Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center operates two units that already meet in Cleveland County. A crisis unit responds to children, their parents and adults up to the age of 24. The second unit caters to all other adults 25 and over.

The children’s crisis cell operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, while the adult cell only operates from Monday to Friday during working hours. That timeline is about to change, said Jeffrey Dismukes, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Health and Addiction Services.

The program, under the department, will expand mobile crisis programs this year with an additional $ 17 million in funding from the state legislature, Dismukes said. Funds will install new crisis centers, expand mobile crisis units and mobile technology for first responders to connect people in need

with services and add a pilot drug addiction program for prisons. The community mental health centre’s adult unit will expand to provide 24/7 service within approximately 60 days.

Bonnie Perrutzi, co-chair of the Cleveland County Mental Health Task Force, said the idea of ​​a third local mobile crisis unit is a likely duplication of existing services. Perrutzi is the director of Halfway house, an outreach service for people experiencing mental health and drug addiction crises.

“It may not be an exact duplication, but if the community has strived to achieve this goal and another outside group comes up with a shiny new penny and over a million dollars to spend on it , it’s not that partnership, what the collaboration looks like, “Perrutzi said.” Especially if the will is to remove a key player in the process. So, yes, if there is more than a million dollars. going around, let’s see how we leverage that money to support efforts that have already been underway, not whoever thinks they know how it works without understanding the issues.

These issues include the need to enforce the law, find qualified personnel, and how outsiders to a person in crisis – including personnel from mobile crisis units – can compound the problem, Perrutzi said.

Perrutzi speculated that it would be difficult to recruit staff into a unit, especially if it requires licensed mental health counselors and social workers. City manager Darrel Pyle shared these same concerns with council in a recent study session.

He reported that local nonprofits are unable to attract the skilled staff needed to support or scale up a mobile crisis unit operation.

“I spoke with a licensed social worker last week,” Perutzzi said. “She said this (a mobile crisis unit) sounded like a great idea but, ‘I don’t want to work around the clock.'”

Staffing is not an issue for units at the Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center, as it has the largest number of mental health practitioners in the state from which to draw staff to the units, said the interim director of the center. Sheamekah Williams. Williams is also director of child and family services for the Department of Health and Addiction Services.

“For our in-game staff right now, in order to be able to count on 30 days with these authorized people, that means all of our staff can work one day a month after hours. We talk one day a month, maybe a few people at most to make two, because there is no other team that has more certified clinicians than we do, ”said Williams.

Both unit models have a licensed mental health counselor and a team of support staff. A hotline for the children’s unit is available, while an adult one will be in place via a call center in July 2023. Both units are partnering with the Norman Police Department for rescue and transfer calls at the community mental health center for on-site assistance. , NPD and Williams said.

The model works the same way one council discussed: CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets). The Eugene, Oregon-based model is run by an existing nonprofit, the White Bird Clinic, and serves two cities. Data show CAHOOTS fields 17% of service calls, but diverts between 5% and 8% of any interaction with law enforcement, The Transcript reported.

Data from the Children’s Unit at the Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center so far in fiscal 2021 shows that 308 calls have been received at the only statewide crisis hotline, not counting direct calls from schools, law enforcement or mental health agencies. Of these, 69% were daytime calls and 31% after hours, and “the majority of these calls are from a parent”.

For 89% of these calls, the unit arrived at the scene within an hour, and only 22 of these responses mentioned assistance to law enforcement. On two occasions, emergency medical services responded and out of 12 calls, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services arrived to help, according to the report.

Reports from the Adult Crisis Unit were not available at press time on Friday.

The goal of both programs is to minimize contact with law enforcement and mitigate unnecessary hospitalizations, while providing crisis care and follow-up with a provider within 24 hours, Williams said.

The city responds

The council has been aware of the units at the community mental health center since a council meeting in September, when the results of a mayor’s task force to identify community needs revealed that a third mobile crisis unit was n was not recommended by the mental health agency participants.

While the lack of referral at the time was due to a staff shortage, Dismukes said Williams’ recently redesigned staffing plan for the adult unit changed that.

Mayor Norman Breea Clark said the process of evaluating existing services and the various models of mobile crisis units has only just begun.

“I spoke with the city manager about creating some sort of task force to look at all of these plans,” Clark said. “Everyone has to be at the table having a hand with any sort of mental health crisis and (with) some of the plans, not everyone has been involved in the conversations.”

Pyle said there are 11 service providers who are “currently involved in the Behavioral Health Response Today” at the state, county and local levels. Norman Regional Health System will host a working group.

“We want to be sure that current resources are used appropriately, but supplemented in a way that benefits Norman citizens,” Clark said.

Pyle said the question should be explored whether the two existing units, even when expanded, can meet the demand for calls to Norman.

The NDP does not have data criteria for mental health and addiction-related calls, but in 2019, out of 97,723 service calls, 1,247 resulted in a transport to a treatment center.

Department spokeswoman Sarah Jensen said that, as any call can have a mental health component, transport numbers do not give a complete picture of the number of cases officers are in contact with someone in crisis. behavior or drug addiction.

A 2019 report from the Eugene Police Department showed that CAHOOTS responded on its own to 13 854 calls in a city of 168,000 inhabitants. Norman’s population is 122,837, according to a 2019 Census Bureau report.

Dismukes said he was excited to see how local agencies can work together to find the gaps and increase services to those in need.

“I hope we can start a dialogue so that people are more aware of the level of service here, where we are going, and we can help the community with what they really want to invest in,” he said. “It’s about finding everything you need to make this city as functional as possible.


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Gail Mena

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