Police, fire, other agencies collaborate to address mental health and homelessness
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Several agencies in El Dorado County are collaborating to change the way South Lake Tahoe deals with non-emergency response.
South Tahoe Alternative Collaborative Services aims to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse disorder and mental health issues. While STACS hasn’t been launched yet, South Lake Tahoe Police Department, fire department, Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless, El Dorado County Behavioral Health, Barton and Cal Tahoe Joint Powers Authority Ambulance have been at the table discussing what the agreement will look like.
“The goal is to build some structure to prioritize people with mental health issues,” said Cheyenne Purrington, executive director TCH. “A lot of the work is preventative, we’re trying to prevent the cycle of high utilization.”
All the agencies involved have some kind of protocol in place for handling these types of situations but Purrington said STACS can help everyone to align their responses.
While the roles of each agency involved differ based on their specialty, one of the overarching goals is to provide infield evaluations.
STACS is the overarching program connecting the agencies, SLTPD will also be launching a modified Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, like the PERT program on the West Slope, that sends a mental health professional on calls with the assigned officer.
If someone is having a mental health crisis, responders can connect them with a mental health specialist immediately rather than transporting them to Barton or putting them in a holding cell.
One of the real values though, is the follow-up.
“For example, if you have five people in a week who called while they were in crisis, or family members called while they were in crisis and it triggered a police response, this program is designed where the crisis worker or the officer will go back a couple of days later when the person is not in crisis and offer services and assistance to help keep that person stabilized,” said SLTPD Chief Dave Stevenson.
SLTFD Chief Clive Savacool imagines the paramedics on STACS will be doing a lot of preventative work.
“They’ll be making sure people are taking their medications, taking out stitches, checking in on people as a preventative measure so it doesn’t become an emergency,” Savacool stated as examples. “Keeping people healthier can help reduce 911 calls.”
The agencies are still working out details on how this will work but Stevenson hopes to get STACS off the ground by Oct. 1. SLTPD won’t need to hire a new officer for the program but will assign an officer to STACS, as well as to PERT.
“This is preliminary on the paramedic side but we’re being aggressive to get this off the ground because of the benefits we see for the community,” Savacool said.
“TCH is pleased with Chief Stevenson’s proactive leadership on this project and appreciate that he’s dedicated meaningful resources to the collaboration,” Purrington said. “TCH looks forward to working with the STACS team to provide a wider range of appropriate mental health interventions to community members in crisis.”
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