The Community Response Team is set to launch Tuesday on a twice-a-week basis after being awarded a $106,000 grant from the Tulsa Area United Way, with a goal to become self-sustaining and expand its days of service.
Tulsa’s CRT program is designed to aid people in crisis in the field and divert them from jail cells or emergency rooms. It is a collaborative effort among Family & Children’s Services, Mental Health Association Oklahoma, Tulsa Police Department and Tulsa Fire Department.
An officer, paramedic and a mental health counselor ride together and respond to calls involving mental health to de-escalate situations and treat individuals on the spot.
The CRT completed a pilot run of 16 days in August in which 72 people were served, with 10 diverted from arrest and nine from emergency departments. Forty-eight of the 72 were stabilized on scene, according to the pilot study’s data.
The CRT project anticipates serving about 450 individuals in a year. The grant will allow CRT to operate 10-hour shifts from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“Establishing a Tulsa CRT will save lives, increase public safety and significantly reduce the strain on local emergency services,” said Gail Lapidus, CEO of Family & Children’s Services. “This integrated approach focuses the city’s limited resources to deliver the greatest benefit and most positive outcomes.”
Lapidus wrote the grant application to secure the United Way seed funding, outlining the importance of the program given the state’s declining funding for public mental health. She explained that treatable issues “spiral into crisis” and overwhelm the first-response system because early intervention and treatment programs are “under-resourced.”
Efficiency benefits were immediate in the pilot phase in terms of personnel time, as well as the clients who were served.
The pilot study estimated that CRT response allowed 67 officers, 14 EMSA personnel and 12 firefighters to leave scenes and go back into service. CRT responded to 111 calls in helping 72 individuals, which was about seven calls per day of the pilot phase.
“Outcome data showing results from the efficient and coordinated utilization of community resources will be used to build a case for program expansion and financial sustainability from police, fire, hospital emergency departments, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse,” Lapidus wrote.
The program’s budget is $189,422, of which 34 percent ($64,822) is in-kind services from TPD and TFD. The $106,011 United Way grant and a private donation comprise the rest. The grant is primarily to support personnel costs for the three-member CRT.
So how long might it take to realize enough savings to become a self-sustaining, seven-day-a-week service?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Dee Harris, communications director for Family & Children’s Services. “I don’t have the answer to that. Now I know that through the pilot program they were able to see immediate hours saved in manpower and resources.”
Tulsa Police Capt. Shellie Seibert said the department is excited about the partnership.
She said officers on a mental health call must determine if a person is a danger to themselves or others, essentially evaluate the situation and then move on. However, the CRT is able to really delve into a person’s needs and provide treatment and help navigate a complex system, she said.
Seibert said people often question police training when use-of-force issues or a mental illness situation arises. She said Tulsa officers are well-trained in those matters, but the CRT is much more equipped to deal with mental illness.
“We’re police officers first, not therapists,” Seibert said.