Calls for Mobile Crisis Unit increase during pandemic; officials say more co-responding is an answer

Posted at 6:49 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 22:16:54-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Triage specialists with the Mental Health Cooperative say we need more co-responding with Metro Nashville Police as call volumes continue to increase during the pandemic.

Denise Lawson is one of the few answering the phones every day and says they’re now averaging almost 8,000 every month.

“It seems like millions, although I know it’s not,” Lawson said.

Lawson has been working as a triage specialist since 2011 and hasn’t seen anything like this in years. Over the phone, she can hear the anxiety and stress from people worried about losing their jobs or getting sick.

“Folks are stressed and some are reaching their tipping points and thankfully we are here to take their phone calls and assist them. It has just been a stressful time for everybody,” Lawson said.

One year into the pandemic and a PEW research study found that nearly one in five U.S. adults are experiencing high levels of psychological distress. On Tuesday, Mayor John Cooper mentioned how mental health would play a major role in his $10 million Nashville recovery plan.

According to Mayor Cooper’s office, part of that funding helps to “augment the services of the mobile crisis unit and provide support for co-responder models that establish a primary role.”

It’s a model that’s already been around in Metro Nashville for at least five years, but more funding could help them expand to include more specialists in the field with officers.

Michael Randolph is the Crisis Program Manager and one of the co-responders who will join officers on the scene of a crisis when it’s safe to do so. He says most of the time people they respond to are open to getting help and follow Michael back to their short-term treatment facility.

Once the call comes in, the Mobile Crisis Unit activates to learn more about who needs help.

“We try to focus on what their practical needs are and try and stabilize whatever crisis they’re going through,” said Randolph.

You’ll find nurse practitioners and counselors doing any number of jobs to diagnose and treat mental health conditions at the facility. Randolph says by offering a more comprehensive service for patients, they’ve cut down on the time officers spend assisting in an area they may not have the training for.

Lawson still understands why collaboration is so important. Without officers there to protect, these specialists can’t serve.

“I don’t ever want to send my person out into a situation that’s going to lead to them not going home to their family at night. So I want to make sure everyone is safe,” Lawson said.

As Randolph continues to research the ideal co-responder model with police, he hopes soon we could also see officers with more crisis intervention training.