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Grant Enables "Crisis Now" Response Program in Fairbanks

Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority

Fairbanks will pilot a new approach to mental health crisis response. Funding from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority announced this week will build a local program based on a model known as “Crisis Now” to supplement or replace law enforcement and EMS response to mental health crisis. KUAC’s Dan Bross reports.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has awarded grants totaling over $937,000 dollars to the City of Fairbanks Alaska Behavioral Health and the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living, who together will set up mobile crisis response teams. 

"Comprised of behavioral health clinicians and peers. Peers are someone with lived experience who can connect quickly with someone in a crisis.”

Trust Authority senior program manager Katie Baldwin Johnson says the nationally recognized  “Crisis Now” model has been successfully employed in some lower 48 communities as a compliment or alternative to police and EMS response to mental health crises.

"There is the opportunity to resolve these situations that do not need to escalate to where someone needs to be taken in to a higher level of care."

"This will be a game changer for Fairbanks.”   

Mike Sanders will coordinate Crisis Response for the city of Fairbanks.

"We're going to be the smallest community for getting this off the ground. This is the Gold Standard for crisis mitigation.”

Sanders describes a comprehensive overhaul of local mental health crisis response, starting with dispatch services.

"A coupling of the statewide suicide hotline with 911. They'll both have the ability to dispatch the team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Sanders says the new approach also includes setting up a place where people contacted by crisis response teams, can calm down and stabilize.

"With recliners and behavior aesthetics, with a calming environment, whereas currently, if someone is in a behavior health crisis, and they have to go to the ER, the Emergency Room  is not the most calming environment.”

Sanders says those needing additional care will be set up with longer term options. The Mental Health Trust Authority grants fund the startup and first year of Crisis Now model operations in Fairbanks, but the Trust Authority’s Baldwin Johnson says the Trust understands it may take a few years to fully spin up the program, and transition to other sources of funding.

"The State of Alaska has implemented the 1115 Behavioral Health waiver which has created some additional Medicaid revenue opportunities for some of the behavioral health care providers.”

The Mental Health Trust Authority is also working with the state and partners to bring similar Crisis Now response programs online in Anchorage, the MatSu and several other Alaska communities.

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.