Mobile mental health group expands into Havasu | Local News Stories

A critical piece that has been missing from the mental health services offered in Lake Havasu City fell into place earlier this month.

Community Health Associates expanded into Mohave County beginning Oct. 1, starting with a Crisis Mobile Team here in Havasu. The Crisis Mobile Team is a 24-7 service capable of responding to anyone experiencing a mental health, drug or alcohol crisis – anywhere in the city. The team’s stated goal is to take care of the immediate crisis, then to assist the person experiencing the crisis with navigating the mental health system to find the help that they need. The Crisis Mobile Team’s services include crisis interventions, crisis counseling, verbal de-escalation, and information and referrals to existing mental health services for ongoing treatment.

“It lets the community know that there are people here to help them other than the police department,” said Teri Wadsworth, the team lead at Havasu. “Behavioural health and mental health is no joke. People get sad and can feel like there is nobody there to help them. We are non-judgmental. We are there to basically make sure that somebody is OK and that they know there are people who care.”

Community Health Associates already provides services in La Paz County with a team based in Parker, in addition to operations in Cochise, Pima, Santa Cruz, and Yuma counties. Wadsworth said the organization has partnered with Arizona Complete Health with the goal of eventually expanding its services into every county in Arizona.

The services are funded through the Arizona Department of Health Services, and no local tax dollars were spent to bring the associates to Havasu.

The Crisis Mobile Team’s arrival in Havasu is welcome news for the Lake Havasu City Police Department which, until now, has been the only entity in Havasu capable of responding to the scene when a mental health situation is reported.

Police Chief Dan Doyle noted that there are already several organizations in town that are doing a good job of providing mental health services in Lake Havasu City.

“They have been great partners, and we value that,” he said. “But this is something we have needed – a mobile response.”

The Crisis Mobile Team’s niche is their ability to meet people experiencing a crisis wherever they are at, and to do so at all hours of the day or night.

Doyle said when the police respond to a call about a mental health crisis they are able to calm the specific situation that prompted the call, but the underlying mental health issues are frequently not addressed.

“Contrary to what you see in the news media on TV, police officers are very good at de-escalation,” he said. “But when we are on our own and are dealing with someone in a mental health crisis we can de-escalate that immediate situation, but now what do we do with them?”

That is where Community Health Associates comes in.

Wadsworth said the team can spend as much time with the person as is needed, learn about their needs, suggest services available to help them, and provide rides to the services the person requires. They can even make follow up visits to check in on the individual and can provide family members with more information about what to watch for or who to call if their family member is having an episode.

“We know who in this community is in mental health crisis because we deal with them a lot,” Doyle said. “It is frustrating for us to not be able to help those people. We know they have a problem, but they won’t go down to a service – so we need to bring a service to them. Our hope is this will save us those repetitive calls about somebody who is not breaking the law and they aren’t a danger to anybody, but they are having a mental health crisis.”

The Crisis Mobile Team is strictly an additional tool to help people in crisis – the police department isn’t going anywhere nor reducing any services or manpower. Dolan said police will still respond to any and all calls the department receives.

“We want to make sure it is not dangerous and the situation is stabilized,” Doyle said. “Then we can get the appropriate people in there to provide help.”

Wadsworth noted that the crisis team had the time and training to spend with the individuals after police had stabilized the immediate situation that prompted the call.

“We can sit with them for however many hours, I can transport them to any place in town that they need – like behavioral health services,” Wadsworth said. “We are able to spend that time with them, while the officers need to go on with their job.”

Although the police department will continue to respond to the calls, Doyle said his hope is that as the Crisis Mobile Team gets established in town and begins developing relationships, the number of calls to dispatch regarding mental health issues will decline.

“They will establish that rapport with them,” Doyle said. “So they could be directly reaching out. Once they have established that rapport it will make things so much easier, not just on the police department but easier on these people to be able to get the help they need. We are so excited to get these services. For years we have been talking about it and trying to get it. It is an awesome service for Lake Havasu City.”

The police department will be able to contact the Mobile Crisis Team to request their assistance with a call, but the team can also be contacted directly by calling the Northern Arizona Crisis Line at 1-877-756-4090.

Wadsworth said the Crisis Mobile Team currently consists of three members, with four more employees expected to start after Oct. 17. She said the team will operate in three shifts to cover all hours, with at least two employees working on each shift. Wadsworth said Community Health Associates is also currently looking to add more employees. She said they are looking to hire people with a behavioral health background, and people with job experience.

On Tuesday, the Lake Havasu City Council officially approved an agreement to provide office space for Community Health Associates inside the police facility on the city hall campus.

Doyle said when he first met with Community Health Associates and learned of their plans to set up the mobile service in Havasu, the organization was looking for office space. He thought housing the team inside the police department could help create some synergies between the organizations.

“That kind of solves that immediate issue for them, and gives them the ability to embed their organization with us and establish that rapport and working relationship.” Dolye said. “Also, that training and the knowledge that we are gaining in reference to people in a mental health crisis is invaluable.”

Doyle said so far, the organization has provided training to Havasu’s patrol division about how to make use of the new services that the team provides. In the future, he said the department will be able to lean on the Crisis Mobile Team for additional tips and training on mental health related topics.

“As we move forward they will be able to help out with some briefing trainings about how to deal with somebody in crisis,” he said. “There is so much to it, we are really looking at this group as the professionals to help us out there.”

Doyle said as the Crisis Mobile Team works closely with the police department, officers will also benefit from observing the team and their interactions with individuals in crisis.

Mental health crises are nothing new, and the need to bring an organization capable of providing mobile support has been a priority for the Lake Havasu City Police Department for a long time.

“I’m not a mental health professional, but we see it on the law enforcement side,” Doyle said. “Every day we are dealing with people that are in crisis and it just seems to be getting worse. I’ll let anybody else do the research on exactly why, that isn’t my field, but we are seeing the results of it in law enforcement.”

Doyle said the Havasu Police Department began noticing an increase in mental health related calls many years ago, and have been trying to get some sort of professional service capable of assisting police on those calls for a long time.

“They just need help,” Doyle said of people in a mental health crisis. “It has become very frustrating for our officers and all of us. We are dealing with people that we know need help, and just trying to get them that help. We do have mental health resources in the area, but we didn’t have a mobile response team that could come out.”

Doyle said most recently, his department put out a request for proposals to see what it would cost to pay for such a service to come to Havasu. But nobody responded to the request.

After that, Doyle said the department began contacting organizations directly to at least get a better idea about the cost. Doyle said most of the organizations contacted said they don’t offer such a service. When pressed to come up with an estimate for what it would take to start up such a service, the figures they were told were cost prohibitive.

“It was in the million-dollar range that it would have cost the city to try to set up that type of unit,” Doyle said. “We were looking at grants and any opportunity we could think of. We were just about ready to give up on it when we were contacted by Community Health Associates.”

And since Community Health Associates already has its own funding sources in place, it doesn’t cost Lake Havasu City any money to finally obtain the services they have been seeking for years.

Although Community Health Associates has debuted in Mohave County with the Crisis Mobile Team, which has already started responding to calls in Havasu, the organization plans to offer more to the community soon.

Wadsworth said she is working on coordinating with the Lake Havasu Regional Medical Center to put together a “Heart Team” – Hospital Emergency Assessment Response Team.

“It will be the same thing – the same staff – we just kind of wear a different hat,” Wadsworth said. “The hospital can call us directly and we will go up there and assess the person. Instead of them waiting for their in-house psych to see them, we can see them almost immediately and come up with a plan for them to get that person back home or to a higher level of care.”

Wadsworth said Community Health Associates is also planning to open their own outpatient facility here, in addition to a “recovery opportunity center.” Wadsworth said the recovery center is for people in crisis who don’t want to harm themselves or others, but want to get out of their home or a toxic situation for a while.

“Eventually we will have our own observation unit which will be a hub between here and Kingman to decide whether somebody needs to go to a higher level of care, or if they just need to kind of hang out and they can go back into the community with follow up services,” Wadsworth said.

Wadsworth said Community Health Associates is hoping to get all of those expansion plans going within the next year.


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