By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
It happens every day in Rockland County. Police officers and paramedics rushing to 911 calls involving individuals with mental health concerns – often referred to as “Emotionally Disturbed Person” (EDP) calls. These situations typically end with the distressed person in handcuffs, being transported to either a hospital emergency room or to jail. Either destination has proven inadequate for providing critical psychiatric evaluations and mental health treatment.
Over time, we’ve learned that our response to mental health crises must change. The safety of both police officers and citizens is often compromised when law enforcement looks to help people suffering from severe mental illnesses who are not being treated properly. The unfortunate result has been traumatizing and sometimes tragic encounters between the first responders and the individual experiencing the emotional problem.
Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
My career with the New York City Police Department taught me that the “lights and sirens” of police cars and ambulances can further escalate a tense situation involving someone suffering a mental health crisis. By recognizing the challenges and realities of this fact, Rockland County this month took a giant step toward making our neighborhoods safer for people with mental illnesses and for the police officers and EMT’s who respond to their calls.
In other words, we’re making bold moves to change our approach to mental health emergencies in Rockland County by launching the Behavioral Health Response Team.
The BHRT – colloquially known as “Bert” – now offers immediate help to adults, teens and children, wherever and whenever crisis intervention needed, while assuring their safety and the safety of those around them. It’s a cutting-edge initiative that will utilize proven, creative and innovative methods of street-level, residential, commercial and public mental health crisis response, while entering into mission-oriented, problem-solving partnerships with first responders, mental health and social service provider agencies.
Through an agreement with Rockland Paramedic Services, Inc., the BHRT partners a trained behavioral health clinician with an E.M.T or paramedic, both of whom respond in plain clothes, in an unmarked vehicle.
Requests and referrals for crisis care can come from anyone: individuals, families, police departments, community agencies, community residences, adult homes, health and human service providers, the Rockland County Department of Social Services, the Rockland County Department of Health and other local mental health providers. These calls are received on the BHRT’s own crisis line: (845) 517-0400, or by dialing 911.
In many situations, the team assumes responsibility for the case, enabling local first responders to quickly clear the scene to resume their other public safety duties. This improves government productivity and services, resulting in taxpayer savings.
Governments at all levels today are seeing lower streams of revenues to support critical services, while the need for our services continues to grow. Working together to achieve efficiencies is one proven method to save scarce taxpayer dollars. The BHRT allows our public safety agencies to quickly direct specific assistance and treatment to those in need, while allowing our first responders to operate more efficiently.
Mobile crisis management involves offering support and treatment necessary to stabilize the individual and ultimately link the consumer to the appropriate follow up care in the community. The BHRT works collaboratively with both the emergency department and the Behavioral Health Center at Nyack Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, Rockland Psychiatric Center, the Refuah Health Center and other outpatient behavioral health and treatment providers in the county.
Improving mental health and substance abuse services is a top priority of my administration. The creation of Rockland County’s first Behavioral Health Response Team – made possible by $950,000 in funding from the New York State Office of Mental Health – will allow our healthcare system to grow more robust, accessible and wide-ranging than ever before. We’re hoping to become a model for counties across the nation.