Those struggling with a mental health crisis in jurisdictions across Nevada will soon be able to connect by iPad with a behavioral health professional.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust is funding the program to allow law enforcement in 11 mostly rural areas to get the person in crisis on the iPad to talk with a professional.
Walter Panzirer, a trustee with the trust, said the $3.8 million grant follows a year and a half of work with state officials and law enforcement agencies.
He said the problem is law enforcement are increasingly having to deal with those situations, and, too often, their only recourse is to take the person to jail.
A professional, he said, can often de-escalate the situation and recommend what to do with the person.
“Nobody having a mental health crisis should be in jail,” said Panzirer, himself a former law enforcement officer in South Dakota.
Participating agencies include the Carson City Sheriff’s Office and Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. But the rest are all rural agencies: Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln and White Pine counties sheriff’s offices, and the Elko, Mesquite, West Wendover and Winnemucca police departments.
In a Las Vegas press conference, Gov. Steve Sisolak said the issue is especially bad in rural counties that many times don’t have immediate access to a mental health professional.
The press conference was streamed on the internet.
Sisolak said all Nevadans deserve access to care when experiencing a crisis. This program will enable the officer on scene to connect that person to someone who can provide that care using a “supersized iPad.”
Sheriff Kerry Lee of Lincoln County said he has seen a huge increase in mental health calls in his 33 years in law enforcement.
An estimated 20 percent of calls to law enforcement involve a mental health emergency.
This program, Lee said, will provide his deputies around-the-clock access to a mental health provider. Lincoln County, he said, is three hours from Las Vegas and seven hours from Reno and that, “I could be taking my one and only patrol officer off the street for hours.”
“This could help immensely in the rurals,” Lee said.
Lee was joined by Ty Trouten, Elko police chief, who said the program will make a significant difference in that city.
“The majority of people just need that caring ear,” said state suicide prevention officer Misty Vaughn Allen.
The law enforcement officer on the scene can call the crisis response team at Avel eCare to request a safety assessment and connect the person in crisis to a video consultation on the iPad. Once the assessment is complete, the team makes its recommendation to the officer and patient then works to establish follow-up care with a local mental health resource.
Panzirer said in South Dakota, the program has cut unnecessary trips to emergency rooms, hospitals and jails by 80 percent.
“We’re excited to help bring this innovative program to Nevada and improve rural and frontier residents’ access to vital mental health resources,” he said.
He and Sisolak both said they expect the program to be successful in Nevada and that it should then be expanded statewide.
The first $1.3 million installment of that grant was approved last week by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.
Sisolak credited Nevada Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty and Assemblyman Steve Yeager with spearheading the drive to create the virtual crisis care program.
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust was created in 2008 and has committed more than $3 billion to a wide range of charitable purposes.