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VCSB working to respond to those in crisis; ease burden on hospitals, first responders

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When someone is in a suicidal crisis, sending police, fire and EMS to help isn’t always the best solution. If the person in crisis is put in handcuffs or removed from their home in an ambulance or police car, it can prove traumatic for someone already in a fragile state.

While many first responders have participated in crisis training, two new options being administered by Valley Community Services Board aim to reduce some of the burden on law enforcement and local hospitals.

Mobile crisis response

VCSB has launched a Mobile Crisis Unit that responds when needed to 988 calls in the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro and counties of Augusta and Highland. 988 was launched nearly two years ago as a national suicide-prevention hotline.

Currently, VCSB has purchased a couple of vehicles for mobile crisis interventions. They also have one incumbent staff member who is responding to calls.

One person isn’t enough for a region that has an alarming rate of people who have died by suicide.

The number of suicides in the SAW area is almost double the state and national average with 22.7 deaths per 100,000 people. There is also an average of 60 detention orders per month of people who are in a suicidal or other mental-health crisis.

The goal is to have two to three people on the response team, said Kimberly K. McClanahan, the executive director of Valley Community Services Board.

“The goal of mobile crisis is to go to the person and resolve it and not have to do more intervention like taking them to the hospital or getting them into an ambulance,” McClanahan said. “Clearly, that won’t always work. But that is the goal to resolve the crisis and then get that person to outpatient treatment as soon as possible.”

There will still be some instances where a person needs to be hospitalized or brought in for a pre-screening to be committed for more treatment, she said.

Safe spaces for those in crisis

VCSB is also ready to assist law enforcement by providing three separate rooms for people who may be having a mental-health crisis and in need of a screening or somewhere where they can be safely monitored until a bed opens up in a facility in the state for further treatment.

VCSB plans to have an officer on site as well as peer support specialists to oversee up to three people at any one time.

Currently, an officer is required to stay with someone in crisis at the hospital until they are placed elsewhere which often can take considerable time due to facilities being full putting a strain on resources of law enforcement and hospital emergency rooms.

The VCSB solution would allow the officer to drop off the individual at VCSB and then go back to work.

McClanahan said that VCSB is ready to go, but there is some paperwork that is still being done on the law-enforcement side to begin this service. She estimates this program will be up and running within 30 days.

“And, of course, we’ll still be working with the Augusta Health emergency department, hand in hand, because there are always going to be some folks who are going to need to go there, if they’re medically fragile or too intoxicated, to be treated.

“Everybody’s very excited about this,” McClanahan said. “I’m just hoping that we’re going to get it up and going very soon.”

Region’s suicide rates almost double state, national average; treatment options in the works

Virginia works to build infrastructure for same-day care for person in mental-health crisis

Gov. Glenn Youngkin announces strategy to improve youth mental health in Virginia

Virginians believe behavioral health should be ‘high priority’ for General Assembly

Governor’s plan: $230 million for behavioral health, funding for 30 mobile crisis teams


May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month.
If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org
For local mental health resources, visit AFP’s Project Mental Health page.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.