The partnership between ClackCo and psychiatrists continues to grow


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CLACKAMAS, Ore. (KOIN) – 911 is the number we know when we are in danger. But who do you call when you see someone in crisis? Police officers say they know they are not always the best answer to every call, especially when someone is in a mental crisis.

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said many of the calls they answer have a psychological component. So they decided to take a different approach to helping someone in a crisis.

Both Multnomah and Clackamas counties have 24-hour emergency phone lines staffed with behavioral medicine teams trained to meet people. But many of those calls that were supposed to go to the crisis team still end up in law enforcement.

“A proxy could find this person, show up and jail them for criminal mischief, but is that really the best solution?” Said Sgt. Marcus Mendoza to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.

Knowing this isn’t always the best solution, they partnered with the Clackamas Behavioral Health Division to bring two full-time psychiatric clinicians to the sheriff’s office.

“We work primarily on street corners, buildings, houses, we go home to a lot of people and just go where the people are so we can help resolve the crisis as quickly as possible,” said Stacy England, who Behavioral Health Department Program manager

“If the police get a call and the family wants the police or they are reluctant to have the police, the police can access us,” said Stephen O’Sullivan, one of the clinicians.

He and another clinician work in the sheriff’s office 7 days a week, talking to deputies on the phone when someone is experiencing a mental crisis. They are also able to connect people with services like housing and treatment and contact the person afterwards.

Clinician Stephen O’Sullivan of the Clackamas County’s Behavioral Health Department meets an alternate (KOIN) during a call in June 2021

Law enforcement agencies have a limited number of tools to use and we have all the community resources,” said England. “So our team’s mission is to prevent unnecessary incarceration and hospitalization, and to help people stabilize and use themselves in their communities to support around them when they need it.”

She said the partnership made a huge difference in handling such cases.

“When we arrive at the scene, the officers usually invite us to their site and they are very relieved when we arrive because they know that we will intervene and try to de-escalate this situation and they can take care of the administration again take care of security, ”she said.

“They are really able to get in touch with people with mental health problems and offer them a service that we, as proxies, could not do ourselves,” said Mendoza.

The partnership began more than a decade ago. Mendoza said the need for it had grown.

“The call load is not decreasing, so that we can always use more help.”

On average, the clinicians are called personally two to four times a day and by telephone about five times a day and look after people in crises after their initial contact.

“The officers often call us because they are worried about the person and they just feel uncomfortable because we have a person here who may be homeless, in a mental emergency and does not want to leave that person on the street, they want to see that person get better, ”said England.

Both MPs and clinicians told KOIN 6 News that this partnership has resulted in better outcomes for people in crisis, especially in cases where someone does not trust the police.

“Often times, family members express their fears and concerns about what might have happened and how things turned out,” O’Sullivan said.

“We come from a very different perspective and background in mental health,” said England.

This perspective is very much in demand.

Mental Health America places Oregon at the bottom end of access to mental health care. Programs like this are supposed to change that.

“The demand for our services is very high and we actually hope to be able to expand our team further,” she said. “We are very busy and I think we can get even busier.”

Clinicians are available to deputies around the clock, but the sheriff’s office team only works until 7 p.m.

Then the MPs have to call the helpline for help. Officials are also talking about adding an overnight team.

The two clinicians who work in the sheriff’s office are also occasionally called to assist Oregon State Police and the Sandy, Milwaukie, and Canby Police Departments with mental health calls.

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About Ellen Lewandowski

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