New Crisis Response Unit in Washington County helps answer mental health crisis calls

February 17, 2019 10:21 PM

More than 1,000 calls have already been made this year from people struggling with a mental health issue in Washington County.

And there is a specially-trained team of trauma professionals answering those calls.


The Crisis Response Unit has 20 full and part-time social workers housed within the Washington County Sheriff's Office.  

The CRU is a brand new approach to quickly and effectively help people at perhaps the worst time in their lives. It went online Jan. 1 and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

"Because we don't schedule a crisis, people are in need in our community," said Connie Tanner, the supervisor of Clinical Services.

So far, the unit has taken phone calls from individuals, a family member concerned about a loved one or police and deputies in any of the 25 communities countywide. Once a counselor figures out what the emergency is, oftentimes a social worker wearing everyday clothing and driving their own personal car is dispatched to that person whether along a street, in their home or a public place. 

The goal is to help the person cope in the moment and get connected with mental health services.

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"Our hope would be we could avoid hospitalization and avoid the need to call law enforcement in... we could come up with a safety plan," said Traci Thompson, the Crisis Response manager.

Dan Starry, the Washington County Sheriff, said about 30 percent of the inmates at the county jail have a mental health issue.

"Anytime we can treat a person in crisis or in need of medical care, which this truly is, instead of putting them behind bars, that is a win for society," Starry said.

The mobile social workers meet the person one-on-one, build rapport and provide the least restrictive treatment, meaning it's likely they could stay in their homes.

"When you look at a person, it means not what's wrong with you, but what happened to you, so we are really trying to meet people where they're at," said Tanner. 

Both Tanner and Thompson point out a crisis is rarely a one-time event and counselors do follow-ups.  

Instead of calling 911, which triggers a law enforcement response, the Crisis Response Unit wants to make people aware of a new phone number specific for mental health crisis calls: 651-275-7400. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number can also be an option: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Beth McDonough

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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