MEDFORD, Ore. — People suffering from mental illness sometimes end up turning to drugs, alcohol, violence or suicide. These situations can escalate quickly and often police officers are called as the first line of defense, but local law enforcement officers are shifting gears to change how mental illness calls are handled.
In 2011, the Medford Police Department saw the largest increase of mental holds, up 88 percent, and the numbers continue to increase ever year.
“It’s people that do live in good homes, professionals, it’s everywhere across the board,” said Corp. Josh Schilder.
Schilder adds,”Mental health affects everybody not just the transient community. They can be very unpredictable.”
For an officer, situations involving a mentally ill person can escalate quickly. Just a few days ago, Medford Police and SWAT surrounded a home because a man was threatening to kill himself. He was taken into custody safely but not all mental health related calls end as peacefully.
The Medford Police Department is working to shift gears on how officers respond to mental illness crisis’.
“Law enforcement has to be involved in it from the safety aspect. But on the back end its more of a medical issue,” said Lt. Curtis Whipple.
Recently, officers and several Jackson County health officials went to Utah for a Crisis Intervention Training on what’s called the “Memphis Model.” It’s a nationally known program teaching law enforcement on ways to better interact with the mentally ill. MPD plans to “CIT” certify the rest of its team and other Rogue Valley police agencies.
Corporal Schilder and Lt. Whipple attended the training in Salt Lake City, Utah. They visited hospitals, worked with mental health specialists and did some scenario-based training.
“We basically had to go in and talk to the individual and what we had to find whats called, triggers. Things that might make him angry. Things you want to avoid and stay away from. Or things that are called hooks; things that make him happy to stay around,” said Whipple.
“One thing that stuck out to me from the training was that some of the ways they respond is a little bit different than how we respond,” Schilder added. “They have like a mobile response team in the field.”
A team consisted of an officer and a social worker. This is a program the Portland Police Department is already beginning to put in place.
“They’ll actually respond to calls for service where police are involved and provide people with resources at that time and allow us to leave to other calls for service,” Schilder explained.
Currently, when Medford Police respond to a mental health crisis they have two options. If someone is intoxicated, they send the person to the William Moore Center to sober up. If they’re not under the influence, they go to Rogue Regional Medical Center.
RRMC’s Clinical Coordinator, Laurel Nickels, explained how the psychiatric care unit is seeing more patients.
“They tend to be sicker patients. They’re evaluated thoroughly, for whether or not they can be safely discharged with referral sources or if they’re actually in danger of hurting themselves or others. Then, they’re admitted to the Behavioral Health Unit,” said Nickels.
Once someone is in the behavioral health unit they work on a treatment plan but it’s running at capacity like most hospitals across Oregon.
“For adolescents especially, there aren’t enough beds,” Nickels comments. “Children in the PCU that are in really bad crisis, there are only two hospitals in Oregon that admit actually ill pediatric clients that have psychiatric units that are for kids.”
For those seeking treatment, getting the right help also depends on insurance. The Jackson County Mental Health Department, La Clinica, and the Community Health Center will see patients without insurance but health specialists say long-term help is lacking.
“There’s just not the dollars available for the services that are needed at this point,” Nickels adds. “From safe beds to put people in, outpatient services, psychiatric services, to support groups, we could use a lot more.”
“When you see someone and you know how they are, and to see them in crisis, and maybe not taking their meds, its really sad. You know, its sad to know this person what they could be doing and then seeing them when they’re in crisis because they don’t have the things that they need,” said Schilder.
Join NewsWatch 12 for the last part of Mental Health: Critical Care where local leaders are hoping to change legislation for the mentally ill. It starts Thursday at 6:30.