An innovative crisis intervention team is taking some of the pressure off police in the Eugene area by responding to calls that don’t involve threats to life, violence or serious crime. In the process, the teams of medics and mental health counselors can connect people to the services they need without sending them to jail first. Jackson County agencies should consider a similar approach here.
With the issues of homelessness and untreated mental illness on the increase, police are being trained in how to recognize and respond appropriately to crisis situations. That’s important and should continue, but the approach of the Lane County program known as CAHOOTS offers a way to respond to situations that may not require a police presence.
The Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets program handled 24,000 calls in 2018. The cost — $67 per call on average — is low by comparison with police responses, which average $800 per call, according to the Eugene Police Department. Emergency room visits average $1,400 according to national statistics, and the CAHOOTS teams can help avoid unnecessary hospital visits as well. The team estimates it saves $7 million a year by diverting patients who don’t need emergency rooms, and $8.5 million by handling calls that otherwise would involve police.
Local agencies have implemented parts of this approach, but not as a separate response team. Jackson County Mental Health provides crisis response therapists by request to accompany police officers on calls where their skills may be needed. And Mercy Flights ambulance service tried a program where specially trained paramedics made preventive house calls to people who had a history of frequent trips to the ER for chronic health or substance abuse problems, helping them manage their conditions better without resorting to expensive emergency treatment. The company estimated it saved nearly three quarters of a million dollars in a year by reducing ER visits and ambulance costs.
Putting the two elements — medical expertise and mental health response — together won’t solve the problems of homelessness, drug addiction, mental health and the housing crisis, but it’s a new approach that could be one piece of the puzzle. Police still must respond to criminal activity and take people to jail when necessary.
If local agencies can work out the details and find the funding, Jackson County could find itself in CAHOOTS too.