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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 4:47 pm | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 

Mental Health Crisis Responders Express Excitement About New Santa Barbara County Programs

Thanks to multimillion-dollar state grants, county agencies are able to expand treatment programs and intervention services

Suzanne Grimmesey, chief strategy officer for the Santa Barbara County Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, with frontline county mental health workers, describes new improvements to the local mental health crisis system. Click to view larger
Suzanne Grimmesey, chief strategy officer for the Santa Barbara County Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, with frontline county mental health workers, describes new improvements to the local mental health crisis system. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

They’re the people who show up to help an individual in a mental health crisis, whether that’s at night, on a weekend or a holiday.

First responders from Santa Barbara County’s Mobile Crisis Teams are always working to intervene to make sure such people are safe and cared for.

The teams are part of the outreach from the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, which has gotten a major boost, thanks to several million dollars in state grants that were awarded to the agency last year.

Last week, Noozhawk was among a small group of media representatives who met with some of those frontline responders at ADMHS to ask questions about some of the upcoming program enhancements.

“We’re going to show up, always,” said Karen Goodnature, who is a part of the mobile crisis team and responds to mental health calls primarily during nights and weekends.

“Street corners, schools, hospitals, parking lots, bridges, rivers, creeks, everywhere.”

Goodnature is a former paramedic who switched to working as a mental health crisis worker. She said she decided she was tired of responding “under the bridge,” and instead wanted to help people on top of the bridge — before they made the decision to end their lives.

Up until about four years ago, mobile crisis response had been a part of ADMHS’ response “but it was a skeleton,” she said.

“When I saw that county mental health was adding programs, I was ecstatic,” she exclaimed. “We’re finally feeling like our clients are being served the way that they should be.”

Last year on the South Coast alone, crisis line staff saw 1,750 people, and many times, there isn’t anything the department can do, according to practitioner Ray Mayer, who also responds to crisis situations for ADMHS.

But adding more triage teams and bringing more mental health beds online gives first responders more options to help, he said.

Involuntarily committing people is not the only tool anymore, he added.

Alice Gleghorn, executive director of Santa Barbara County’s Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, discusses local improvements to the mental health crisis system. She has high hopes for the new La Morada Peer Respite House, which is to open this summer and will assist adults with mental health challenges who do not require hospitalization. 'It’s a beautiful setting,' she says. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Alice Gleghorn, executive director of Santa Barbara County’s Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, discusses local improvements to the mental health crisis system. She has high hopes for the new La Morada Peer Respite House, which is to open this summer and will assist adults with mental health challenges who do not require hospitalization. “It’s a beautiful setting,” she says. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Two game-changers for the county are coming online this year and next.

ADMHS was awarded a $2.7 million grant last year from the California Health Facilities Financing Authority. Officials announced that the grant would provide funding for two facilities and a program expansion for people in mental health crisis.

A Crisis Stabilization Unit, which is expected to open in November, will be located in an existing building on the county’s Calle Real campus, in the unincorporated area between Santa Barbara and Goleta.

ADMHS and county General Services staff were able to secure an underused 6,000-square-foot facility at 305 Camino Del Remedio to house the new crisis unit.

The county will place eight beds there for patients to stay up to 23 hours while receiving treatment and medication from medical staff, according to officials.

The department is hopeful of opening a second crisis stabilization unit in the North County. Funding from the state is available, but ADMHS executive director Alice Gleghorn said the department “has a lot of legwork to go” in terms of finding a facility.

State funding also will allow the county to open an eight-bed Peer Respite Residential Program in Santa Barbara.

The La Morada Peer Respite House is expected to open in July and will house adults with mental health challenges who do not require hospitalization. They may stay at the facility for up to 30 days.  

“It’s a beautiful setting,” Gleghorn said, adding that the unit is a “home-like environment” with mental health staff available to assist clients.

The department is hoping that setting will allow people to move out of the crisis stage and into a more stable environment.

The system is designed to intervene with people earlier, to prevent them from getting to the mental health crisis stage because they’re able to manage their care, Gleghorn explained.

Officials say 12 new beds are also in the works and will be coming online for up to six months. Gleghorn said the hope is that those beds will alleviate the high number of people designated “incompetent to stand trial,” or IST.

The county has struggled with IST individuals, who come into the system if doubt arises about their mental capacity when accused of misdemeanors. Those accused of felonies are taken to state mental hospitals.

An individual is ordered to the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility, or PHF, for a professional evaluation to determine whether he or she can stand trial. There is a waiting list, however, and it can take months for an individual to be admitted to the PHF.

The length of stay for patients declared incompetent to stand trial is three and half times longer than other patients, ADMHS officials have stated in the past.

Gleghorn was also asked about the state Laura’s Law, which has been implemented in several counties and calls for mentally ill people who refuse treatment and meet specific criteria to be placed in a court-ordered treatment program.

In April, the county Board of Supervisors opted to revisit adoption of the law in six months. The supervisors said they first wanted to gauge ADMHS’ progress before taking that next step.

Gleghorn spoke at the Board of Supervisors meeting, contending that the department is in the midst of numerous program changes and could not yet take on another project.

“It’s important to get all of these things up and running and then look at where the gaps are,” she said last week.

She added that she was not ready to commit to tackling the law in the fall, noting that some of the accompanying elements involve bids and construction that could mean further delays.

ADMHS also has added a 24/7 mobile crisis team staffed by mental health professionals in Lompoc. The unit is a new addition made possible by the earlier state grant, and joins existing teams in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria.

The teams work closely with law enforcement and focus on people who are a danger to themselves or others, or unable to care for themselves.

More training is also being provided to law enforcement personnel so they can intervene when a person has a mental health crisis. ADMHS recently completed its four-day 2015 Crisis Intervention Training for 39 law enforcement professionals and other first responders.

The county also has been reaching out to college campuses, and has received federal funding to partner with Allan Hancock College, Santa Barbara City College and UC Santa Barbara.

A Justice Alliance also has been established to help provide mental health treatment to people in the court process.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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