Law enforcement officers were recently called to a local gas station where they encountered a non-threatening man offering to buy everyone gas.
The man seemed to not have a good concept of time. He was very friendly, but his speech patterns and demeanor suggested something was not quite right. He admitted he had not been taking his medications for a several days.
Instead of arresting him for disorderly conduct, the responding officers talked to the man and he agreed to wait with the officers while they got a mobile mental health unit to the scene to help him.
The above situation was just one of many scenarios members of local law enforcement recently went though as part of a new initiative to combat mental health and drug abuse issues in the county.
“It is a collaborative effort between juvenile justice, probation, Stokes County Sheriff’s office, Stokes County E-911, Stokes County EMS and CenterPoint Human Services,” said Stokes County EMS Director Greg Collins. “Those organizations have just gone through 40 hours of training in a class call Crisis Intervention Team Training.
He said 34 people had just graduated from the class.
“It was designed to teach them how to help our behavioral health patients, how to be able to better serve them and get them to the correct places,” said Collins. “The hospital is not always the best place to go. So we are trying to find out all the different resources, learn about the behavioral problems they may have and then learn about alternative places for them to go.”
He said it was very important to correctly analyze mental health issues and get those suffering from them the help they needed.
“We are doing this to help the residents of Stokes County with behavioral and mental health issues,” he added. “To better serve them and get them the things they need. Sometimes they need an ambulance, sometimes they just need a ride.”
He said the training was directed at emergency responders at every step of the process.
“This can impact how dispatchers talk to them on the initial call,” said Collins. “They will be be better prepared to sent additional resources like the mobile crisis unit early on to get things going.
“We have first line people, the ones in the field, doing this training, but we also have dispatchers and our administrators taking the class,” said Collins. “Probation has 100 percent of their people having taken the class and will be the first county certified in the state.”
County Manager Rick Morris added that other departments would continue to have staff go through the training in coming months.
“It is a good idea to do this both for financial reasons and as a service for our citizens,” said Morris. “Anything for mental health we can do we need to do. It helps to reduce risk.”
Collins said the county was also part of a pilot program that made it easier to take potential mental or behavioral health patients to alternative facilities.
“That will free up ambulances and patrol cars,” he said. “But the person also has to be willing to seek help. It is not a one-way street. We can help get people to where they need to go, but the person also has to take ownership of the situation and be willing to go through treatment.”
Participants in the CIT program said they were amazed at the resources already available in the county to help patients with mental or behavioral issues.
“There are things here in Stokes County that we are able to utilize,” said Collins. “They are in this county and I had no idea they even existed. You drive by it every day and it can be right there on Main Street but you don’t know what it is until you are educated.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.