■ By Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Reporter
At the March 28 Hemet City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved a cooperative agreement between the City of Hemet and Riverside University Health Systems, Department of Behavioral Health, to establish a Joint Crisis Intervention Team.
The effort will be funded by the California Board of State and Community Corrections, City Law Enforcement Grant in the amount of $69,197.58. The approval authorized the Finance Department to establish a revenue and expenditure account for grant activity, and approved and allocated expenditure budgets for the purchase of one (1) fully equipped patrol vehicle and the uniforms and safety equipment necessary to establish a joint Crisis Response Team in partnership with the Riverside University Health System, Department of Behavioral Health.
This is a one-year grant and will be the second partnership of its kind in Riverside County; the first was with the city of Riverside. About a year and half ago, Police Chief Dave Brown had mentioned to me the discussions between HPD and County mental health to provide better service on mental health crisis/5150 calls.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Perciful commented during the council discussion that “this is long overdue.” Brenda Scott, executive director for NAMI Mt. San Jacinto, has been working to remove the stigma of mental health in the San Jacinto Valley.
“I got a little emotional for a moment after the vote,” said Scott after the meeting. “I was proud of my city.”
Police Chief Brown began his presentation by explaining how the partnership was initiated.
“In 2015, we began to track a disturbing statistic within the department – the department’s response to mental health crisis calls. We saw a surge in those calls from 2012 through 2015,” said Brown. “In 2015, the department responded to 1,816 mental health crises calls. That was an alarming number to us. We reached out to our partner’s then-Riverside County Mental Health – now, Riverside University Health Systems (RUHS) Department of Behavioral Health. Dr. Roderick Verbeck, Mental Health Services Administrator for RUHS, met with us at that time and we had a great conversation.”
“Essentially, what we are recommending is that you authorize us to enter into a three-year agreement with the Department of Behavioral Health to deploy a two-person crisis intervention team in the city of Hemet to respond to those crisis mental health calls that we are not currently handling with the likelihood to the best possible outcome.”
Brown explained how his department handles a mental health crisis/5150 call.
“Today, what happens is the police department gets a call from a person in a mental health crisis and we send a police officer, who has had a 40-hour course in the police academy but no medical training and certainly no advanced behavioral health training,” said Brown. “They go out and assess the circumstances. That is what the state of California authorizes us to do and that’s the state’s best answer. The wonderful thing about our county department of behavioral health is that they recognize, as do we, that that’s not the best way to handle those calls.”
According to the Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training, officers are required to have a total of 15 hours of training on mental health in the academy. Until August 2016, academies only had to provide six hours of training on mental health. Hemet police officers receive more hours of training than what is required.
The increased hours, from six hours to 15 hours, is the result of SB-11 Peace Officer Training: Mental Health. The bill was introduced by California State Senators Jim Beall (D-15) and Holly Mitchell (D-30) and co-authored by State Senators Joel Anderson (R-38), Loni Hancock (D-9), Robert Hertzberg (D-18), Mark Leno (D-11), Carol Liu (D-25), Bill Monning (D-17), and Jeff Stone (R-28). California State Assembly coauthors include Assembly Members Rocky Chávez (R-76), Jim Frazier (D-11) and Brian Maienschein (R-77).
The current numbers
The Hemet Valley Medical Center has had an average of 789 mental health/5150 holds per year since 2013. The numbers per year for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 are 727, 792, 824 and 816 respectively. Patients brought to the Hemet Valley Medical Center are currently treated in the emergency room because the medical center does not have a behavioral health unit. This poses a problem as an emergency room is not the ideal place to treat such patients. This method also takes up much-needed beds in the emergency room.
The medical center sees an average of 2.2 mental health holds per day with only 29 beds available in the emergency room. According to the data collected, officers of the Hemet Police Department responded to 1,816 mental health calls in 2015 alone, a 2 percent increase from 2014, where officers responded to 1,789 such calls. This means that the Hemet Police Department responds to an average of five mental health calls per day.
How will this assist HPD with mental health calls?
Dr. Verbeck from RUHS determined that unless the county figured out a way to fund the joint Crisis Response Team, Hemet would not be able to utilize the services. Verbeck described the program they launched several years ago with the city of Riverside.
“We had a meeting and were trying to solve all the problems in the city of Riverside and we proposed this idea of a liaison where a licensed clinical therapist or a clinical therapist, who is unlicensed but working on their hours, would be paired with a police officer,” said Verbeck.
The therapist would ride in the police car 40 hours a week and be dispatched with the police officer on every call possible, he said.
“Primarily if there is a mental health call – someone is suicidal or homicidal – as a result of a mental illness, then they would go work those calls and try to see if they could avoid putting that person in the hospital by trying to get some services, wrap care around that person or if need be, admit them to the hospital.
“So, we launched that several years back and it worked for a little while then sort of fell apart. A couple years back, we were approached again and this time we found the right officer and the right therapist.”
The transport policy for mental health crisis patients
When a patient is transported under California Code Section 5150, the following is the operational policy for Riverside County EMS regarding transportation and restraints: (1) Use four-point wrist and ankle restraints. (2) Take the original, complete, signed, and valid 5150 form with the patient. (3) Transport the patient as clinically indicated by REMSA Policy. i. Law enforcement may elect to meet the ambulance, follow in tandem, or ride in the patient compartment. ii. Law enforcement remains legally responsible for the patient during transport.