February 21, 2024

After two years, the future of Minneapolis’ mental health response program is uncertain

It was daylight by the time an overnight team brought the Minneapolis mental health emergency response program back to their Northeast office. A woman with complex hallucinations of dangerous animals kept the responders in her house an hour after the end of her shift.

As the team debriefed a room full of mental health practitioners, wearing navy T-shirts with “Response to Behavioral Crisis” splashed across the back, responders Dane Haverly and Shamso Iman wanted to begin their -morning shift. They patrol south Minneapolis in a white van loaded with bottles of water, snacks and copies of a homeless resource guide.

“We are very good listeners,” Haverly said. “For a lot of people, that’s all it takes. We’ll listen for 45 minutes, and then they’ll be like, ‘Okay, I feel safe now.’ And that’s it, they’re good. That’s all they needed.”

Behavioral Crisis Response (BCR), the newest branch of the city’s 911 emergency service, was launched two years ago as a pilot project. Staffed by contractors with Canopy Mental Health and Consulting with backgrounds in social work, emergency medicine and substance abuse counseling, BCR has freed police officers from thousands of calls involving complex issues of psychosis and depression that take enough time

But despite suggestions from health care providers and recommendations from the US Department of Justice for Minneapolis to establish BCR as a permanent emergency program, the pilot project is off to a great start — and faces an uncertain future.

The program was launched with two old vans that kept breaking down, preventing responders from reaching calls, according to the DOJ. And the office the city initially offered was a “literal storage closet,” according to BCR program manager Marisa Stevenson.

Recent hires and the addition of new vans over the past two months have gradually improved the program’s ability to respond to all areas of the city. But with Canopy’s contract expiring in a few weeks, it remains unclear whether city officials intend to keep it around long-term.

On Monday, the Minneapolis City Council’s Policy and Government Oversight Committee unanimously approved a one-year extension of the pilot at a cost of $2.9 million. Committee Chairman Jeremiah Ellison said he needed more time to amend the length of the contract.

Short and vague contract lengths could make working with city and community officials more difficult, as well as making it more difficult to recruit staff and rent office space, Stevenson told council members. She asked them to extend Canopy’s contract for at least two more years, until 2025.

Some officials “openly said they accept that the BCR won’t be around much longer, so they don’t need to invest the time and energy in cooperating with us,” Stevenson said.

A lack of clarity about which city department should oversee BCR has created obstacles to the program’s success, said Gina Obiri, the city employee who manages the Canopy contract.

When BCR’s budget was moved from Obiri’s Department of Performance Management and Innovation to the Office of Community Safety last year, she said she was left out of public safety meetings that would help BCR responders work more effectively within the traditional emergency response network. city ​​- at the forefront. to “confusion and inefficiencies, internally and externally.”

The Star Tribune asked city officials how BCR is being evaluated and what is needed to create a permanent mental health crisis responder program. The city’s media relations staff referred questions about BCR to the Office of Community Safety, which did not respond.

‘A lot going on’

Haverly and Iman’s first call last Tuesday came from a woman who claimed someone was tied to a fence under her high-rise apartment. Responders didn’t find anyone there, but Haverly said scary distractions can feel as visceral to a person as real situations.

Next the two rushed to the Nuway addiction treatment center in the Whittier neighborhood, where an unfortunate client had a hint of self-harm. For more than an hour, they listened attentively to the man’s business, family and housing troubles, which affected him to the point where he was unable to be part of a group.

“Tell me more. It sounds like there’s a lot going on,” Iman said. “What happened today as a result of this stress?”

They suggested different treatment options based on the man’s background, like the exercise-based Twin Cities Wellness Center, and gauged his need to go to the hospital. In the end, as the man felt calmer, everyone decided it was unnecessary.

Nuway program manager Tricia Briscoe said she has called 911 for BCR several times over the past two years, to help when her staff’s de-escalation tactics weren’t working and clients needed to go to the hospital rather than leave them alone .

“I hope they have it every day, 24 hours a day, because a lot of our crises happen outside of hours when clinical staff aren’t on site,” Briscoe said.

When BCR responders take individuals to the hospital, emergency room clinicians like Melicia Kehneman and her staff at Abbott Northwestern are on the receiving end. She said it makes a big difference when responders can provide detailed, relevant information from a clinical perspective, rather than when police officers bring patients out.

“Officers don’t have to be mentally trained,” Kehneman said, and BCR responders can establish a baseline: “Is this a normal day for this person, is this new, is this an acute crisis? How can we help the patient best. basically a stranger to us in the emergency room?”

BCR responders also make frequent trips to group homes and homeless shelters, such as the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in downtown Minneapolis. Since the pandemic, program director Ian Brunzell said, Harbor Light has seen “more extreme manifestations of severe and persistent mental illness”. A community resource like BCR, which can respond “in a trauma-informed way” to mental health crises, is beneficial, he said.

“What would be great to see would be more of them,” Brunzell said. “I think they are always overloaded.”

Ellison said the City Council is ready to talk about making sure BCR becomes a permanent part of Minneapolis’ emergency response network.

“I don’t see this as a service that we should continue to plan for many years,” he said. “I think we need to be able to fully integrate this into how our city manages safety and keeps neighbors safe.”

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