Avera, Helmsley Trust and South Dakota sheriffs launching Virtual Crisis Care pilot program for mental health care


PIERRE. S.D. -One million dollars will go towards mental health access for law enforcement in South Dakota thanks to the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the announcement made Thursday morning.

Virtual Crisis Care will give criminal justice staff working with the public in 23 counties across South Dakota the opportunity to work with mental health professionals on de-escalating situations, work to asses and stabilize those in a crisis and be able to arrange follow up care for those individuals after an incident using tablet.

Avera says individuals with mental health concerns will receive only the best care and officers will receive help with complex mental health issues.

“Virtual Crisis Care pilot is part of a $7.8 million grant announced in 2018 by the Helmsley Trust,” said Avera Psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Stanley. “It was an initiative to build a 24/7 telemedicine behavioral health team in partnership with Avera e-care … This now expanding to law enforcement and other first responders. Across the U.S. there is a growing shortage of psychiatric workforce, while at the same time, we are seeing a need for behavioral health care recognized as an increased request for services.”

And Avera says it could benefit tax payers with fewer mental health holds, transports to care, and hospitalizations.

Allegedly, last year in Minnehaha, nine of every 10 people that mobile crisis team responded to were able to stay home to receive services rather than being transported, being in mental health hold or being hospitalized which is a cost to taxpayers.

Sixty percent of rural Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals and at a time where mental health has been on the decline, nationally, related to COVID-19.

The $1 million broken down will go toward purchasing the tablets and accompanying technology. It will also go toward staffing the 24/7 e-health care.

Partners, South Dakota Unified Judicial System, Avera eCARE, and the Helmsley Charitable Trust in collaboration with the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association say that the number of tablets being bought will be reliant on each Sheriff’s office and how many they will need for staff in the field or in office.

How it works? Officers responding to someone in a crisis will first have to determine if that person is in-fact experiencing a crisis. They’ll then introduce that person, within their home or otherwise, to the tablet which will connect them to a behavioral health specialist. From there, the specialist will be able to determine whether law enforcement will need to transport someone or if they are able to stay at home.

Sen. Helene Duhamel, (R) District 32 served on the Health and Human Services committee this past legislative session. Pennington County is one of the pilot program’s locations.

“This clearly benefits patients in a mental health crisis in need of services,” Sen. Duhamel said. “It keeps the patient close to home and their support system. It assists law enforcement and court services in their ability to de-escalate, assess and stabilize those in crisis and arrange for follow-up care with local community mental health centers. And it saves taxpayer dollars. Virtual crisis care is a win-win strategy. Pennington County’s Care Campus with the Behavior Management System’s Crisis Care is the perfect place to pilot this innovative program “

The service will also be utilized by other staff in the criminal justice system such as prosecutors, probation officers and other law enforcement staff that work with individuals who could potentially benefit. The program can be used for someone who is delusional, hallucinating, or off medications, for someone making suicidal or homicidal statements, and for someone unable to care for themselves. It would not be used for those who are heavily intoxicated, need medical attention, or are too violent or unwilling to participate.

The issue of broadband access has already been addressed. Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere says his staff has been testing connectivity in their remote locations of the county. There is difficulty, but as this is a pilot program the hopes are these issues of Internet access can be addressed and that the federal governments plan to create 5G broadband access will come through.

The pilot program goes through June 2021.

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