Axis Health System will expand its mobile crisis team this year to more quickly respond to areas where they are needed.
The team responds when someone is in crisis, suicidal, or otherwise in need of mental health care, said Pam Wise Romero, Axis Health System’s chief clinical officer.
Members of the team work in pairs – one EMT and one crisis therapist – and they assist law enforcement, hospitals and other organizations that may have patients in crisis across a five-county region.
“We think it’s a good investment for a rural community to have staff that’s able to travel,” Romero said.
Axis received $425,000 from the state Office of Behavioral Health to hire six new crisis team members. State funding is expected to sustain the expanded services, Romero said. The funding is a piece of the $9.5 million the state Legislature during the 2017 session set aside to improve care for those experiencing a mental health crisis, according to a news release.
Axis’ crisis team started as a pilot program in 2014. At the time, pairing a crisis therapist and an EMT was an innovative step, Romero said.
The crisis therapists handle behavioral health evaluations and other aspects of mental health care, while EMTs can determine if the patient needs physical attention, she said. Sometimes, patients require both kinds of help.
Mobile crisis services can keep patients from unnecessary hospitalizations, link suicidal people discharged from the emergency department to services and connect people to outpatient services, according to a 2014 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
“More and more states are moving toward having a statewide mobile crisis system,” said Sharon Raggio, board member of West Slope Casa, a managed services organization. Axis will contract with West Slope Casa to provide the mobile crisis system.
Axis mobile crisis team members handled the majority of the 500 crisis interventions completed by Axis in 2016, Romero said. The teams, which drive Ford Explorers, also transport patients around the region, she said.
Axis’ current mobile crisis team consists of three EMTs, nine crisis therapists, an engagement specialist and a peer specialist. The engagement specialist follows up with patients to make sure those in crisis are connected with follow-up care, and the peer specialist is someone who has been through a time of crisis and can provide additional support.
“It just adds another dimension to your team,” Romero said of the peer specialist.
The additional staff will allow the team to respond faster and in more locations at the same time.
“We are hoping to improve our response and availability, particularly out of Pagosa Springs and Cortez,” she said.
Axis aims to have the new teams in place by November, she said.
A law signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May provided most of the money to improve the response to mental health crisis this year. It bans law enforcement across the state from keeping someone experiencing a mental health crisis in jail if they are not charged with or convicted of a crime.
The law directs people who may be an “imminent danger to others or to himself or herself” to be taken to a clinically appropriate facility.
The law has no affect on La Plata County Jail because it doesn’t hold people for mental health conditions, said Dan Bender, a spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s been our policy not to do that for quite some time,” he said.
The jail would hold someone with mental health condition only if he or she were ordered to by a judge for the safety of the individual, he said.