Mobile Crisis Outreach Team better than 911 or EMTs in mental health crises
Knowing what to do in the middle of an immediate mental health crisis can be overwhelming. Many people immediately call 9-1-1, but that might not always be the best option. An underutilized service without flashing lights and sirens offers a less threatening approach for people in Sanpete County—it’s called MCOT (Mobile Crisis Outreach Team).
The program started in 2012 in Salt Lake County, and it was proven that it was a program that was very much needed not just in urban areas but in rural communities as well.
MCOT has been active in Sanpete County since July 1, 2021 and was selected as the first Central Utah Counseling Center area (serving the six-county area) to start these services because of the great support and partnerships with Sheriff Buchanan and all the police chiefs in the county.
The Utah State Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health appropriated money so that the rural local mental health authorities could develop MCOT in rural counties, supplemented by funding from the local mental health centers.
There are four therapists who work 24/7 two at a time for a whole week. There are also three case managers specific to the geographical area, one of which is specific to Sanpete County. Each member of the team has a certification from the state as crisis workers.
Since it began, there have been 249 deployments (as of early January) in the six-county area, and 101 of them were in Sanpete County.
“It’s kind of like a mental health ambulance with a clinician and somebody who has experienced maybe something similar to what this person’s experiencing so they can relate with them,” said Anna LaDamus, the MCOT specialist at Central Utah Counseling Center.
Somebody who is experiencing a mental health crisis and calls emergency services for help has a fire truck, ambulance, and police car respond to the neighborhood, and all these vehicles with flashing lights can create more of a crisis than what the person is calling first to seek help for.
But unlike traditional emergency service vehicles with EMS branding, flashing lights and sirens, MCOT units are unmarked vehicles that are designed to look like any other car on the road. They are discreet and don’t draw unnecessary attention.
The main philosophy of the MCOT team is “anyone, anywhere, anytime.” LaDamus said that there is no limit on age or place to respond to. She said that they have responded to schools, homes, jails, grocery store parking lots, even cemeteries. The response time is something she is very proud of. They can get to the patient in as fast as five minutes.
The team is made up of people who know a lot about mental health. They can support anyone through their problems because sometimes family can’t really support the individual; it’s either too heavy, or they don’t know how. LaDamus emphasizes one thing that is important to know—you are not alone. You don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to walk this path alone. There’s someone out there.
For most people, it’s enough. Most of the individuals that receive services are able to stabilize in their home and avoid a trip to the hospital.
MCOT service is free and available 24/7, but if the patient needs further attention, officials will coordinate a trip to the hospital day treatment services or other therapy.
They will also follow up with them in the day after the crisis to see how they are doing and see if they need additional services. They work on short-term coping strategies and long-term recovery ideas, with the ultimate goal of getting people back on their feet, being happy again.
Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels is excited about the fairly new program and said that it is something that Sanpete County has needed for a long time.
“Sometimes the state forgets that the state continues beyond the Utah County line,” he said. “We have needed a program here in Sanpete, and I am excited to see the results and [am] thankful we now have it available.”
Daniels said that he meets once a month with law enforcement officer Anna to go over mental health cases to try and help them before crimes are committed, as well as look at those who have already committed crimes to see how they can help them.
“When we start looking at resolving mental health issues, we will start seeing a reduction in crime and drug use in our county,” he said.
If necessary, MCOT will work hand in hand with traditional EMS and law enforcement to protect someone in immediate harm or danger or others around them.
Some concerns and crises can be handled over the phone, but others need to be handled in person. That is where the MCOT team comes in.
A lot of it is about diverting resources away from medical professionals and law enforcement and focusing a lot of those resources on the mental health professionals who can go into people’s homes in a state of crisis and really help deescalate the situation and help people.
There are still times when people should seek help from police or medical professionals, but the hope is that during a mental health crisis, people will call on the hotline.
A huge supporter of the MCOT program is the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office. Officer Derik Taysom said that the department is so grateful for the MCOT team and all the help that they give the department.
“As officers, we are not trained in mental disorders, and the MCOT team is filled with trained mental clinicians to help us,” he said. “We don’t want to put mentally ill people in jail; that isn’t the place for them.”
Taysom said that another benefit to the program is when a call is made, an officer will respond with the team for protection, but once the need for them is no longer, the officer can leave the scene and attend to actual criminal things happening throughout the county.
The state legislature approved $2.6 million to fund new MCOTs in rural counties during the 2020 General Session, but the funding was on the chopping block in the spring when lawmakers were forced to cut $850 million dollars from the state budget to make up for lost tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislators cut almost all new funding, but they spared the MCOT program.
You can reach the MCOT team by calling the Sanpete County dispatch or by calling the crisis hotline at 1-877-469-2822.