A year later, Longview Police consider the mental health unit a success | Health

On a hot Wednesday afternoon in August, a woman sat in the limited shade provided by the Longview City Shop, across the street from the Alabama Street homeless camp.

He was waiting for a ride that came about 10 minutes later. A white car with blue Behavioral Health Unit written on the side pulled up in the parking lot. The woman got into the back seat behind the two case workers and the car took off.

Longview Police Captain Branden McNew watched the scene from afar, not wanting to interrupt a good thing. Without revealing the woman’s name, McNew said he knows her as a frequent subject of calls to the emergency health services due to her messy public behavior.

“Just the fact that he’s where he should be, in time, for a date is a sign of improvement,” McNew said.

It has been 13 months since the Behavioral Health Unit began operating in partnership between the Longview Police Department and Columbia Wellness. The three-person team is sent on calls with mental and behavioral health components, with the ability to answer urgent calls as they arrive or perform in-depth follow-ups with people who need more help getting a steady place in their lives.

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The partnership was fruitful enough that the program continued to expand throughout Cowlitz County. Longview is adding two more people to keep the unit’s staff seven days a week.

Meanwhile, the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office is in the final stages of launching its unit this week.

“Law enforcement is responding during a crisis with a short-term emergency where these guys can build a longer-term relationship with people. They have the time and direction to do that job out there, working at street level, ”Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman said.

Longview’s contract for the unit expires at the end of 2022 and is expected to be renewed in the city’s two-year budget to continue.

How the unit works

Longview City Council budgeted for two mental health professionals in the spring of 2021. A grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs added a third member to Longview’s team and placed another in Kelso.

Laura Eastwick is a founding member of the Behavioral Health Unit at Longview. When she first heard about mental health crisis units and frontline counseling work, she said she wanted to get involved. She described it as a “return to the roots of social work”.

“Seeing that you have helped someone feel a sense of dignity and worth that no one else has given them in a long time is a success for me,” Eastwick said.

Longview unit members have been involved in some high-risk incidents. During the first three months of the unit they responded to a bomb threat thrown at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center and an individual who threatened to commit suicide by the policeman.

Regarding the more day-to-day work done by the unit, McNew said the biggest benefit was that the team was able to lead calls with a mental health component and arrange for follow-up visits. with the subject of such calls.

“It’s not about whether the police are too busy to take calls. It’s if the help service the person needs is a police officer, and most of the time it’s not, ”McNew said.

On average, the unit interacts with an individual four or five times. About half of the interactions are one-off for single seizures or immediate referrals. Others, on the other hand, received dozens of follow-up visits.

Extended help can be as simple as giving someone food and water. Unit members will accompany people to medical appointments, receive resources from the Department of Health and Social Services, or meet with service providers in the area.

Some cases have been based on what Eastwick called “creative problem solving”. To help a person who was paranoid about breaking into their home, Eastwick said the unit purchased a basic motion alarm for the front door that helped provide peace of mind.

“Most people are able to tell you what they need, even if it’s not the way you expect it,” Eastwick said.

During the unit’s first year of operation, police and behavioral health experts figured out how to answer calls as they arrived to expedite responses. The biggest and most recent change to the unit is the tagged car, which went into service in June.

Transporting a person in crisis to a better place can be an immediate way to deal with their problems. Eastwick said the unit wasn’t sure at first it wanted the notoriety of a tagged car. Apparently, that vehicle allowed people to report members for emerging crises and helped establish the unit’s reputation in the community.

“Being affiliated with the Police Department gives us credibility with some people. For people who don’t, that we’re people with mental health gives us credibility, so most people are willing to engage with us, “Eastwick said.

The new Cowlitz County unit

The mental health unit for the sheriff’s office has been in the works for about as long as the Longview unit operated, but has just started.

In May, Cowlitz County Commissioners approved funding for the unit through the end of 2023, using the county’s mental health sales tax of one-tenth of 1 percent. The unit has added members one at a time over the past month, each following the Longview Behavioral Health unit to get a feel for what the job was like before starting with the county.

Like Longview, the county has contracted with Columbia Wellness as a supplier, but has a different composition of team members. The county team has two counselors with experience in the state’s Wraparound with Intensive Services program for youth with behavioral health problems and two counselors who specialize in substance use disorders.

“The vast majority of the people we receive a call to attend will have concomitant substance use disorder. It was our biggest a-ha evolutionary moment in the last year, let’s put that in, ”said Drew McDaniel, CEO of Columbia Wellness.

The county team will have a broader geographic scope. The unit will respond to calls from unincorporated parts of the county, cities like Kalama and Woodland that do not have their own mental health units, and will also assist Longview on occasion. Members start with a tagged car, supplied by the county attorney’s office, and tactical vests tagged.

Bobbi Day, one of the substance use disorder professionals working for the county unit, had initially trained to become a police officer before embarking on education and counseling. Day said she was interested in seeing the data and success stories that would emerge from the unit over the next 16 months.

“We want to teach our customers how to be more resourceful, how to be more stable, how to accept opportunities in the community to improve if that’s what they want to do,” Day said.

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