Crisis calls to Wichita police for mental health services have spiked by 69% since 2009, according to police data. With more residents struggling, a new initiative launching this week aims to better treat those in mental health crisis while freeing resources to focus on high-urgency 911 calls.
Sedgwick County and the City of Wichita are partnering to create an Integrated Care Team, or ICT 1, a 90-day pilot program that will explore the effectiveness of responding to low-urgency calls with a team made up of a law enforcement officer, a trained mental health specialist and a paramedic.
The program represents a partnership between the Wichita Police Department, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, Wichita Fire Department, Sedgwick County Fire District 1, Sedgwick County Emergency Medical Services, Sedgwick County Communications and Comcare of Sedgwick County.
John Gallagher, medical director of Sedgwick County EMS, said the specialized team will focus on “the needs of patients that are not traditionally met by the normal 911 services.”
Andrea Lantz is a mental health professional with Comcare. She said ICT 1 will help patients receive care in an environment they’re likely to be comfortable in.
“It’s connecting to those people that won’t reach out to first responders to come into the building—we’re meeting them where they’re at,” Lantz said. “Any type of contact or any kind of care within their setting, I think is a win for the client.”
Sheriff Jeff Easter said mental health and drug abuse are the driving force behind most of the calls residents make to 911.
“Mental health and the methamphetamine problem here is driving over 70% of our calls,” Easter said.
He said responding to such calls traditionally involves many different agencies and vehicles, making it inefficient.
“The response to the mental health calls involves a law enforcement officer being dispatched to make sure that it’s a safety issue, fire department, EMS being dispatched, and then it involves law enforcement if we have to take custody of that individual because they’re a threat to themselves or others,” Easter said. “Then we have to involve Comcare and we have to involve Via Christi.
“By placing a qualified EMT, a law enforcement officer and a social worker from Comcare, we have it all there at the same time.”
The team will travel in one vehicle, a red van with “Integrated Care Team” printed across the doors.
Malachi Winters, program manager at Sedgwick County EMS, said ICT 1 will not be directly dispatched. Rather, they’ll use computer software to read the text of 911 calls and determine when and where they’re needed.
“If there’s a call that’s popping up on the 911 system that the team thinks they can intervene on, they will self-dispatch on that,” Winters said.
Lantz said teaming up with a law enforcement officer and a paramedic to respond to mental health calls will be a major benefit for social workers.
“Most of the time, we’ll be seeing someone — especially in our office — and we’re like, ‘I wonder what the law around this is?’ or ‘How can I help someone effectively?’” Lantz said. “We see medical concerns a lot, and so to have a counterpart that’s in that field to be like, ‘They’re medically cleared,’ or ‘This is a law we can help them with,’ further streamlines.”
Sarah Slifer, another Comcare mental health professional, said she’s optimistic about ICT 1’s success.
“At a very minimum, we’re at least improving communication between agencies,” Slifer said. “I already think it’s been positive.”
Both the city council and the county commission signed off on a memorandum of understanding allowing agencies to donate personnel time, equipment and resources from their existing budgets towards the pilot program.
County Commission Chairman David Dennis said he’s encouraged to see the city and county team up to better serve constituents.
“The spirit of cooperation between the two organizations is fantastic,” Dennis said. “I don’t know that we’ve worked this well together in quite some time.”
The pilot program runs until Oct. 31. Dennis said it will be evaluated and tweaked each month to test feasibility.
Sheriff Easter said agencies will track how many patients they encounter through ICT 1 and determine how those patients would have otherwise been dealt with to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.
If the program is deemed a success, Sedgwick County’s 2020 Recommended Budget includes funding for ICT 1.