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Mobile Crisis Team is busier than ever

Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority

The mental health Mobile Crisis Team has been active for one year in Fairbanks. Last month was their busiest yet, after calls for the civilian mental health team increased through the summer and fall.

The team started taking calls from people in mental health crises in October, 2021 and had 40 calls by the end of that November. Brenda McFarlane, Crisis Now Coordinator for Fairbanks says a year later, the demand is twice that.

“ Our call volume has doubled since the team began. We averaged 41 calls in the first quarter that the mobile crisis team was 24- 7. And now it’s consistently at 70. And then this last month (November) we went up to 89 calls,” McFarlane said.

Those 89 calls are dispatched by the 911 dispatch center in Fairbanks to the mobile crisis team, and they provide services to anyone in the Fairbanks North Star Borough - in their home, workplace, or wherever they are.

Before the mobile crisis team was launched, someone who called for help would be answered by law enforcement, instead of mental health peers and professionals. They might end up in jail or the emergency room, instead of a rehab center, to counseling or back in their own home. McFarlane says the data show a success story.

“And while we don't want to celebrate that more people are in crisis, is certainly good to know that they are recognizing this as a resource they can use,” McFarlane said.

“And I think part of that is more people are aware of us,” Roberts-Kelly said.

That’s Heather Roberts-Kelly. She’s the Fairbanks Mobile Crisis Team lead. She says those 89 calls in November weren’t spread evenly through the month.

“Yeah, so sometimes it's crazy. We have like 12 in a day, and then other times we have none. Last night we had seven,” Roberts-Kelly said.

This job is not for everyone. But Roberts-Kelly says the team has had the same folks for the past year.

“There’s been some additions, but mostly it's the same core team.  We have eight. So we have four peers, and four clinicians,” Roberts-Kelly said.

Those eight people are all the team has to cover every day and night of the year.

“That's right. So we work 24 hour shifts and most of us work 48 in a row. And it doesn't mean that, you know, we're up for the entire time. Cause we do get breaks,” Roberts-Kelly said.

The configuration has worked for this first year of operation -- the mobile crisis team had 321 diversions from law enforcement, hospitalization, and incarceration. That’s about one per day. But already the call volume has gone up from that.

“And you heard that I said one team had 12 calls in one. That wasn't normal and maybe things are gonna increase and we'll have to rethink how this is staffed. But for now, it, it's okay to work the 48 in a row,” Roberts-Kelly said.

Both Roberts-Kelly and McFarlane credit local rehabilitation centers and social-service agencies working together in changing the mental health landscape in the Interior. What used to be a long wait for a counseling appointment or addiction program intake has been greatly reduced.

 ” I feel like we are part of a community effort that's helping people. You know, we have 988 and the Careline and Dispatch and then finally us that actually go out to people,” Roberts-Kelly said.

“One of the things that I think has caused some stabilization is that Alaska Behavioral Health made this huge commitment to not only operate the mobile crisis team, but also offer next day appointments. And they're doing walk-in, uh, crisis appointments as well Monday through Friday.

That has changed the landscape, I think, and they really have led the way on that,” McFarlane said.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees just awarded $800,000 in Trust grant funding to Alaska Behavioral Health (AKBH) for the continued support of the Fairbanks Mobile Crisis Team (MCT) for another year.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.