Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, June 14 @ 3:58 p.m.

Del Norte's Mobile Crisis Response Team Set To Roll Out July 1

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A team of mental health professionals will soon be able to help Del Norters experiencing a crisis get the care they need while avoiding the emergency room or jail.

The Del Norte Behavioral Health Branch’s Providing Access To Hope (PATH) mobile crisis unit can begin delivering services starting July 1, the branch’s deputy director, Shiann Hogan, told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday.

However, despite receiving conditional approval from the state to start operating, the Behavioral Health Branch is still working on memoranda of understanding agreements with local law enforcement and recruiting for the folks who will staff the PATH.

The county will also likely have to get the van itself from the East Coast, which means it probably won’t arrive in Del Norte until October or November, Hogan said.

“We are purchasing a mobile van that will look similar to what you might picture an ambulance to look like,” she said. “There will be a couple of desk spaces, a spot for clients to come inside the vehicle and meet with us and it will be equipped with resources and information and supplies that we can give out to the people we may encounter after being called.”

Until the van gets to Del Norte, PATH staff have vehicles it can use to respond to calls with, Hogan said. It’s currently recruiting a peer support specialist and a behavioral health specialist. And, while it won’t have the capacity to operate 24-7 come July 1, PATH staff will communicate its hours of availability via flyers, social media and other avenues.

There will also be a dedicated phone line people can call to get service, Hogan said. Those who are in crisis or people calling on behalf of a loved one who is experiencing a crisis will go through a screening process so staff can get information about the situation, particularly if it’s safe for them to respond on their own or if law enforcement support is needed.

“The goal is keeping people in the community,” Hogan said. “So we might be developing safety plans for them to stay in their home or on the street or where ever we encounter people and then providing information and resources and helping them link to other programs and services that might help them.”

There will also be a follow-up visit 24 hours later to see if the individual in crisis needs anything else, Hogan said.

“In their down time, or during the times where we’re not having a lot of calls, we’ll be doing outreach events,” she said, adding that staff might station themselves at Open Door Clinic to let visitors know the PATH unit is there.

According to Hogan, Del Norte County is one of the last counties in California to implement a mobile mental health crisis unit.
According to a needs assessment created for Del Norte County by the Indigo Project, the state allocated more than $2 billion for behavioral health infrastructure and residential care through the Behavioral Health Community Infrastructure Program.

Del Norte County used BHCIP dollars for the needs assessment. It’s also using another more than $2 million in BHCIP grant money to purchase the infrastructure for the PATH unit. This includes the computers, office equipment, safety equipment and the vehicle.

Indigo Project’s needs assessment determined that because of Del Norte County’s size and small population, those experiencing mental health crises are typically taken to the emergency room at Sutter Coast Hospital or are booked into the jail if they committed a crime. It’s also challenging for people to pick up their medication since Crescent City is the only incorporated city and roads are often uncertain.

Between the 2019-2020 and 2021-22 fiscal years, between 418 and 462 individuals have sought help from the Behavioral Health Branch when experiencing a mental health crisis, according to the needs assessment. This means Behavioral Health staff are responding to two crisis episodes per day, according to the assessment.

Since 2019, local law enforcement — the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office or Crescent City Police Department — has responded to more than 200 calls each year for people experiencing a mental health crisis, according to the needs assessment. In 2021, police and deputies have responded to 361 calls for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Hogan said Behavioral Health staff expect the PATH team to get two calls for service per day, but she hopes that more people will be diverted their way. Currently, according to the Indigo Project’s needs assessment, during the assessment period, about 4,000 emergency room visits involved a primary mental health diagnosis.

Of that 4,000, about 437 visits resulted in a 5150 hold. About 61 percent of those holds ended up being discharged while the rest were transferred to a psychiatric hospital outside of Del Norte County.

On Thursday, Hogan said the ultimate goal is to see a reduction in the number of 5150 holds as well as those who are transferred to locked psychiatric facilities.

“Our hope is many more things might get diverted to us that we’re not even thinking about in this way,” she said. “For example, if law enforcement responds to a domestic violence call, whoever the victim [is] they can get referred to the mobile crisis team who can ensure they’re linked with the appropriate services. I can see this growing to a much bigger thing than just responding to someone who is suicidal.”

Hogan also reiterated that the public can call the PATH unit on behalf of a loved one who might be experiencing a crisis.

“People will often call the office saying I’m very worried about my neighbor or my son or dad, they haven’t been acting right and I’d like someone to check on them,” she said. “Typically that’s done by law enforcement through a welfare check. This team can go out and respond to those types of things.”


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