U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) is continuing his push to expand the Excellence in Mental Health Act. Blunt joined law enforcement and mental health officials in Springfield Tuesday to discuss the program.
“There are 24 states that would like to be the pilot states who, in the properly defined facilities, right kind of staff and 24/7 availability, would make the government, as the payer, treat mental health the same as other health,” Blunt said.
The Republican Senator in February introduced the Expand Excellence in Mental Health Act. The original bill, signed into law in 2014, allows eight states to participate in a two-year pilot of the program. Blunt wants that expanded to all states receiving mental health planning grants, which includes Missouri.
He says the act aims to improve quality standards at community health centers and modernizes them to expand access and even offer 24-hour crisis care in certain areas.
“In essence, the country has allowed law enforcement and emergency rooms to become the de facto mental health systems for the country, and nobody benefits from that,” Blunt said.
The Springfield Police Department has trained Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers to improve its overall response to individuals in crisis. Officers team with mental health professionals, hospitals and family members of individuals to not only control the situation, but to fix the core of the problem.
“Most people get a little nervous if an officer pulls up behind them and starts to follow them,” said Corporal Chris Welsh, a Springfield CIT officer. “Just imagine somebody suffering from mental illness, who has been arrested multiple times, who is in a state of crisis, something bad is going on and then the police show up to his house.”
Welsh said it is a CIT officer’s job to slow down the situation and let the individual know they are here to help, not harm.
One assistance tool is the Virtual Mobile Crisis Intervention program. It uses an iPad to Skype a conversation with an individual and an expert from Burrell Behavioral Health. Welsh said the system has worked with every individual he has used it with, from 15- to 80-year olds.
This advancement in tele-medicine has given officers the ability to explore more avenues than just a jail cell or emergency room.
Sen. Blunt said that it will also save money by getting individuals out of jails and emergency rooms and into community health centers. Here, substance abuse and mental health can be treated simultaneously, not separately.
“Nobody will argue that there is a huge cost to not treating mental health like all other health,” Blunt said.
Blunt says local officers have begun to move beyond what has been traditionally expected of them. He adds that Springfield is a model city for potential pilot states when it comes to law enforcement crisis management situations.