With state funding, Burlington moves closer to launching a mental health crisis response team

With the assurance of a state grant, Burlington is moving closer to the rollout this year of a crisis response team to help with mental health emergencies.

Mayor Miro Weinberger announced to the city council Monday night that a $667,252 grant from the Vermont Department of Mental Health will be given to the city over a two-year period and will cover nearly half the cost for a new crisis response team. Howard Center.

The new team is a “medically advanced crisis response team,” according to Jackie Corbley, a consultant who worked with the city on the program’s implementation. Corbly said she is working to sign an agreement with the Howard Center and set a target date for the team’s rollout, which is expected to happen this year. Corbley told the council on Monday that the city was informed about the state grant last week.

Beth Holden, Howard Center’s chief customer service officer, said in an emailed statement that “the Howard Center is here to clarify how to work with existing and enhanced Howard Center and City resources to improve crisis response for individuals in Burlington.” continues to work closely with the city to

Weinberger said Monday that he expects the team to have seven staff members and that the recruiting process “could be lengthy.” He said the city is looking for ways to get the team up and running as quickly as possible using existing resources and staff.

“No sooner than those people want that it’s going to serve,” Corbly said in his update to the council. “So we understand that time is of the essence.”

City Councilman Joe Magee, P-Ward 2, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the crisis team and was glad the city brought someone in to help with the implementation. “I think it’s safe to say that before Jackie Corbley came on board to help with it, like, the program was going nowhere,” Magee said.

Mental health calls are on the rise in Burlington. According to data provided by the Burlington Police Department, 1,234 mental health calls were received in 2022, a 29% increase from 2021.

The crisis team is often compared to a program that originated in Eugene, Oregon called Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, or CAHOOTS. Dispatched through 911 emergency call centers, the team pairs social workers and medical responders to respond to reports of a mental health crisis. It diverts calls that would otherwise be handled by police officers or ambulance teams.

The key difference is adding medical personnel to such teams, said Alison Kramph, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health.

“It’s new and different and impactful because people on the other side of that intervention are often not the only ones in need,” said Crompf, adding that she’s excited to see the Burlington program in action because it’s the first step towards providing care. May provide more options other than police involvement or a hospital’s emergency department.

“We hear from people that they would really like to have the option of getting their needs met without having to go through the emergency department and inpatient hospital route,” said Cromph. There will still be other people who need the emergency department, she said, “but when they show up there, it’s very busy. Their wait is extraordinary because we have people there who don’t need to be there.” .

Currently, the city uses community service liaisons, who are social workers, and community service officers, who are unarmed officers who work for the police department and respond to many mental health calls. Additionally, the Howard Center has a street outreach team that works closely with first responders and the First Call Crisis Line in the city.

In a request for proposals for the new crisis response team sent out last March, the city said it wanted to expand its “non-enforcement crisis response.”

“Even with a community-centered model, however, the needs of Burlington residents exceed the current capacity of the social-services network,” read project background included in the city’s request.

The city said it wants qualified mental health physicians as well as medical professionals who would be either nurses or emergency medical technicians. The city said it wants the team to have regular hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but will need on-call staff after hours.

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