Baraga County, Michigan’s innovative police-healthcare collaboration pioneers the Virtual Crisis Care model. Addressing mental health crises, it connects officers with Avel eCare’s specialists, aiding assessments and solutions. Overcoming resource strains, reduces ER congestion, benefitting patients, officers, and clinicians. Research validates its efficacy in preventing unnecessary hospitalizations, and aligning recommended and actual dispositions. Funding challenges were surmounted via collective efforts, offering a cost-free trial period. This collaborative approach, merging law enforcement and healthcare, sets a precedent for crisis intervention models, enhancing community care.
The partnership between law enforcement and healthcare in Baraga County, Michigan, introduces a groundbreaking Virtual Crisis Care model, revolutionizing mental health access. With escalating 911 calls related to behavioral health emergencies, this innovative initiative aims to bridge gaps faced by officers in addressing mental health crises. The collaboration facilitates direct connections between officers and behavioral health specialists, streamlining assessments and interventions. Through meticulous planning and strategic collaborations, this model seeks to alleviate strains on emergency resources while prioritizing community care, setting a new precedent in crisis intervention strategies.
Law enforcement officials have increasingly become pivotal in connecting individuals with mental health conditions to crucial healthcare services. However, constrained resources and limitations within hospital capacities often impede law enforcement’s ability to provide adequate support during crises.
Statistics from the journal Psychiatric Services reveal that a significant percentage of 911 emergency calls—ranging from 5 to 15 percent—are related to behavioral health emergencies, necessitating law enforcement intervention. The inability to refer individuals to treatment contributes significantly to this surge in mental health-related calls, as highlighted by a survey of senior United States law enforcement officials in 2011.
As the mental health crisis escalates, a coordinated approach between law enforcement and healthcare experts becomes imperative.
In response to these challenges, Baraga County, Michigan, has forged an impactful collaboration. Baraga County Memorial Hospital and the Baraga County Sheriff’s Department recently unveiled a groundbreaking telehealth initiative, the Avel eCare co-responder model, termed “Virtual Crisis Care.”
This model empowers law enforcement officers to connect with behavioral health professionals using Avel eCare’s platform while responding to incidents involving individuals facing mental health challenges. Through this innovative approach, healthcare professionals conduct assessments and provide recommendations, connecting individuals needing further assistance directly to Baraga County Memorial Hospital.
However, the implementation of this transformative model encountered barriers that required meticulous attention.
Before its launch, discussions and planning persisted for nearly a year. Baraga County Memorial Hospital collaborated closely with the Baraga County Sheriff’s Department and four other law enforcement agencies within the county, having already incorporated the model into its emergency room operations.
Rob Stowe, CEO of Baraga County Memorial Hospital, emphasized the scarcity of psychiatrists within the county and the absence of a credentialed psychiatrist within the hospital. This scarcity led to situations where ER physicians faced challenging scenarios without the necessary expertise, prompting the need for external consultations. Avel eCare’s telehealth program bridged this gap, enabling ER physicians to consult behavioral health clinicians, and facilitating mental health screenings for ER patients.
Expanding this successful model to involve law enforcement agencies was a natural progression. Stowe highlighted the similarity between the screenings performed in the ER and the assessments conducted by officers in the field, emphasizing the early intervention aspect of the initiative.
Launched on November 8, the model equips law enforcement officers with tablets or smartphone applications, facilitating direct connections between individuals in mental health crises and Avel’s behavioral health specialists. Sheriff Joe Brogan of the Baraga County Sheriff’s Office underscored the significance of addressing these situations without displacing individuals from their homes, emphasizing the model’s non-intrusive approach.
In situations requiring escalation, officers can transport individuals to the ER for necessary services, such as medication changes recommended by Avel eCare’s professionals.
This model’s successful launch was made possible through funding from the Copper Shores Community Health Foundation and the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. Multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Keweenaw Bay Tribal Police Department, the Village of L’Anse Police Department, the Village of Baraga Police Department, and the Michigan State Police, are active participants in this collaboration.
The advantages of this telemental care model are multifaceted, benefiting both patients and law enforcement officers.
In an environment grappling with a shortage of psychiatrists, Baraga County, like many areas in the US, faces challenges in providing adequate mental health support. This model enables residents to access mental healthcare swiftly, bypassing the need for travel and extensive waiting periods in the ER.
Stowe emphasized the significance of de-escalating crises at home, thereby reducing the burden on the ER. This not only benefits patients but also alleviates pressure on ER clinicians, potentially improving physician retention.
Moreover, the model relieves law enforcement officers of the responsibility of making mental health-related decisions they aren’t trained for, reducing potential risks during crisis interventions. Avoiding unnecessary ER visits helps officers remain in the field, minimizing time away from their duties.
Researchers evaluating the Virtual Crisis Care model noted its efficacy in averting unnecessary involuntary committals to mental health facilities. The model’s recommended dispositions are closely aligned with the actual outcomes, showcasing its accuracy and efficacy in resolving crises on-site.
However, launching this innovative model wasn’t without challenges, notably coordinating multiple law enforcement agencies and securing funding for the initiative. Collaborating and pooling resources with Avel eCare significantly streamlined the model’s implementation, operating at zero cost to participating entities and patients during the trial period.
Moving forward, the organizations plan to disseminate the trial’s outcomes, seek additional funding, and expand the model’s reach.