Friday, May 18, 2018

Santa Cruz County Grand Jury recommends county mental health team to help law enforcement

SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County law enforcement agencies are the front line for 911 calls involving behavioral-health crises that might warrant involuntary 72-hour psychiatric confinement.
But 70 percent of those 911 calls involve people who are not a threat to others — cases suited for the Santa Cruz County Behavioral Health acute-crisis intervention team that accepts only non-threatening clients referred by medical or school workers, the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury reported Thursday.
In the report, “Mental Health Crisis: Seeking An Integrated Response,” the grand jury recommends the county’s Behavioral Health Mobile Emergency Response Team (MERT) to expand services to include 911 calls.
“Unfortunately, MERT is not a resource that can be accessed through 911,” the grand jury reported.
The idea: Allow the response team to send staff with a peace officer to 911 calls for non-threatening crises, a classification that would need to be established the Santa Cruz Regional 911 system to reduce the burden on law enforcement.
Sheriff Jim Hart, who said Thursday he needed some time to respond to the grand jury’s report, previously identified mental disorders as one of four elements — including alcohol, drugs and homelessness — in most criminal cases in Santa Cruz County.
There are only 14 inpatient beds dedicated to behavioral health for Santa Cruz County’s more than a quarter-million people. As a result, Santa Cruz County Jail is the area’s largest behavioral health facility; 17 percent of the inmates seek treatment for mental disorders, the grand jury reported. With Santa Cruz Main Jail equipped for 311 inmates, that puts at least 52 inmates seeking help with mental disorders while other inmates decline county behavioral health services, the grand jury reported.
The grand jury also called for County Health Services Agency, the behavioral health oversight, and the county’s five law-enforcement agencies to create a plan to make mental-health liaisons available to respond to 911 calls at all hours in all jurisdictions. There are five liaisons who work with Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office, and Santa Cruz and Watsonville police.
The county launched a program in 2013 for liaisons to accompany peace officers on 911 mental-health calls. The county funds half of the program; each law enforcement agency covers the remaining expense.
“This program, in conjunction with (crisis-intervention training), has had a dramatic and positive effect on the way our officers and deputies interact with people in crisis,” the grand jury reported. “The downside to this approach is the additional time that many of these calls take.”
A mental health call can require up to four hours for each officer from initial contact with a person to their transfer to the area’s Behavioral Health Unit, the grand jury reported.
The Behavioral Health Unit houses involuntarily committed emotionally distressed patients at 2250 Soquel Ave. Privately owned Telecare Corp. contracts with the county and operates the unit. Dominican Hospital operated a behavioral health unit that closed in December 2013.
Telecare’s private status prevented the grand jury from finding any public record of any county audit or inspection of the facility.
“Grand juries do not have the authority to investigate the performance of private, for-profit contractors to government agencies so we were not able to evaluate the accommodations,” the grand jury reported.
May 17, 2018
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Michael Todd

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