The Community Response Team has received its second one-year grant as the mental-health project develops a system to identify and help “super utilizers” of emergency services without repeated 911 calls.
The CRT triumvirate — police officer, fire paramedic and mental-health counselor — respond to mental-health calls in an emergency medical service truck. The specially trained unit works to keep people out of jail or emergency rooms by treating and connecting them to services on the scene.
February marks one year since CRT began operating on a $106,000 grant from Tulsa Area United Way. The involved agencies matched the contribution to operate two 10-hour shifts a week the past 12 months.
In almost a year, CRT stabilized on the spot about 50 percent (162 of 332) of people the unit made contact with through emergency calls. There were 18 of 35 people who avoided a hospital emergency room visit, and 18 of 22 were diverted from jail.
But before upping operations to seven days a week, CRT coordinators want a system to identify the emergency system super users. Then they can work with support services on case management and medical needs to deliver treatment plans and reduce the use of 911 in non-emergency situations.
“They’re the people who dial 911 multiple times a day or week, and they aren’t necessarily in crisis, but they may be symptomatic and need help,” said Tulsa Police Capt. Shellie Seibert.
Efforts are ongoing to retrain the public to dial COPES at 918-744-4800 for mental-health crises rather than 911.
COPES — or Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services — is a free and confidential 24/7 hotline and mobile response crisis service through Family & Children’s Services.
Amanda Bradley, senior program director for COPES, said there are more than 13,000 calls annually to 911 involving people suffering from mental-health crises or illnesses. COPES fielded more than 10,000 calls, meaning more than half of the mental-health calls went to law enforcement rather than mental-health professionals.
“That was just very overwhelming to see that,” Bradley said.
COPES clinicians are leaving business cards and refrigerator magnets during follow-up visits after CRT responses. Bradley said that after CRT stabilizes a person in crisis COPES helps them with intensive case management to make sure they get the necessary resources and attend appointments to stay out of crisis.
The Hardesty Foundation provided funding for a CRT clinical coordinator. Family & Children’s Services has committed to providing two social workers or case managers, as well.
Seibert said she hopes to perform a cost-benefit analysis this year that shows how much a 911 super utilizer costs the system compared to the expenses from operating the CRT.
“If we can do that, then hopefully we can move away from the grant funding and just put in (resources),” she said.
Seibert pointed to a high-profile example of the importance of CRT in freeing up other first responders in case of an emergency.
CRT took over a situation involving a person who was suicidal to which officers, firefighters and EMSA had responded because the woman had a weapon. Shortly thereafter an active-shooter call came across the radio, prompting a robust emergency response.
That turned out to be the triple shooting in December at Walgreens at 71st and Lewis Avenue. A clerk fatally shot a customer who pulled a firearm on him during a dispute over photographs, with two bystanders wounded by the clerk’s gunfire.
“All those units then were available to go to that call,” Seibert said. “If CRT had not been on they would have had to stay there with her.”