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A Better Response Envisioned for Mental Health Crises

Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority

A mobile crisis team to de-escalate mental health emergencies is coming together in Fairbanks. The City of Fairbanks, re-entry organization “The Bridge” and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority have partnered together to form the program, called "Crisis Now."

Linda Setterberg, Operations Director for The Bridge described what happens now when someone is having a crisis like an overdose, or a psychotic break, for example.

“Someone calls 911, ambulance or the fire department or the police respond to a person in a mental health crisis. They end up in the Emergency Department. They could end up in jail.”

Setterberg is a retired nurse, and has family experience with behavioral health crises. She says what the Fairbanks area has now is not a good response.

Doug Schrage, the Fire Chief of the University of Alaska Fire Department agrees.

“Police officers and firefighters aren’t equipped to deal with behavioral emergencies.”

A different approach with different personnel with different training is behind a new model called “Crisis Now.” Mike Sanders is the new Crisis Now Coordinator for the City of Fairbanks. It would give people in behavioral emergencies more options.

“Emergency rooms, by their very nature are kinda chaotic. And it’s not exactly the most calming environment. It’s not appropriate for somebody who’s in a mental health crisis.”

The Crisis Now stabilization model diverts people away from jail and the emergency department. In Fairbanks, the City’s coordinator is partnering with Setterberg’s organization to create those options. Instead of law enforcement or firefighters, a mobile response team would tend to someone who is suicidal, or delusional or overdosing.

“The mobile crisis team is a licensed clinician and a certified peer support specialist that can go to the scene.”

A peer support person is someone who has lived experience – someone who’s been through it – and is more likely to relate to a person having a behavioral health crisis. Setterberg’s agency is already developing training for five to 10 people to be on the team. The Bridge has received a grant from the Alaska Mental Health Trust to launch Crisis Now.

At the heart of the model is a call center that coordinates the 24/7 mobile teams to meet people in crisis, and get them to short-term stabilization facilities if they need additional support or observation. Sanders says a call center like that in Fairbanks will merge the Careline Hotline with the existing 911 system.

“Careline having the ability to dispatch the mobile crisis team, with the same capabilities that 911 can dispatch the fire department or the police department. Not only will Careline be able to see where the mobile crisis team is, but so will every police, every officer, every fire unit will be able to tell where the mobile crisis team is. If they are having any issues, they are going to get response, right away.”

In a year, the 988 suicide-prevention system will launch, and people in crisis can call 911 or 988. Fairbanks and North Pole City Police, the Alaska State Troopers and local fire departments are preparing for the program to activate, which could be as early as this fall.