Mental health professionals to now be on 24/7 with Tri-Cities law enforcement

The Lourdes Mobile Outreach Team will now have mental health professionals riding with police officers 24/7.

A grant was reissued to the program as the deadline for the current funding approached. Now, the money will run from January 2020 to July 2021. Three workers will always be on whether during the day, at night or overnight.

“It’s going to streamline, so people aren’t sitting in jail and waiting competency and restoration orders,” said Cameron Fordmeir, Manager of Lourdes Counseling. “Instead, they can get put into services that are going to be beneficial for them.”

The professionals ride along with officers in Pasco, Richland and Kennewick. They immediately respond to those in crisis. If other departments need them, they can shift over. The money came from the True Blood Phase III grant.

More than $1 million was awarded for the original grant. It was increased by a little more than $200 for the changes.

Fordmeir said this will allow constant access to mental health services when people reach out to authorities for help.

“They are people out there so calling 911 doesn’t directly mean someone is getting arrested, especially if someone is in a mental health crisis,” Fordmeir explained. “We have somebody available for all the time to assess and divert that to appropriate services.”

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The funding also adds a data collector, which is what the mental health professionals would be required to do after being called to a crisis. This would take them off the street for an extended period of time, not allowing them to go out and help those in need.

Fordmeir said the program has been extremely successful. Their goal for crisis intervention training for officers was 25%. They nearly doubled that. Also, it has cut down on wait times, cost and unnecessary arrests.

When July 2021 rolls around, the money will expire. Lourdes has been in contact with both Benton and Franklin counties.

Benton County has a public safety sales tax. Commissioners will have to decide if that money will fund the program when the grant runs out. If not, Fordmeir said Kennewick Police have verbally committed to using their portion of the tax to hire one crisis responder if the county doesn’t.

Each city council would be proposed with the mental health needs of their city. In Pasco, they have started funding conversations. Franklin County doesn’t have a public safety sales tax. Commissioners would need to vote on a 3/10 of 1% safety tax in order to fund the program. Lourdes said the goal is to get it on the ballot.

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