Mental health providers, officers team up in crisis response

May 30, 2019 GMT

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — The first therapist in Montana to embed with law enforcement recently filled a desk in the center of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.

Last week, community-based crisis therapist Karen Patty with Gallatin Mental Health moved into her spot at the Sheriff’s Office. She will soon get the keys to an old unmarked deputy car.

First responders will call into dispatch to ask for Patty to join calls where she’ll provide care on scene for people in a mental health crisis. She’ll evaluate their condition and make sure they have follow-up services.

“It’s a big deal to have mental health invited into the police culture,” Patty said. “I’m also able to respond immediately to locations in the community that may not rise to the level of law enforcement, but we still have someone in crisis.”

The community-based crisis response program started as a pilot in January when Gallatin Mental Health Center hired the new crisis therapist. Since then, officers and deputies have worked with the center on how to co-respond to calls. They hope people eventually reach out to the response team before there is an emergency.


The six-month trial was paid for by private donations and ends in June.

During a news conference Tuesday, Western Montana Mental Health Center staff and law enforcement officials said the hope is local governments carve out money in their budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The Gallatin County sheriff and the police chiefs from Belgrade and Bozeman said they requested that money from the commissioners and council members who are deciding their budgets.

Both Bozeman Police Chief Steve Crawford and Belgrade Police Chief E.J Clark said when people need more help than officers can provide, they are often taken to the hospital or crisis center in handcuffs.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said while most deputies or officers in the area have crisis response training, that doesn’t support people with unmet needs in the long term. He said last year, deputies responded to one woman with a mental illness 56 times.

“The idea is for us to get the pros there, have them take care of the family, deescalate, and for us to be able to ease out of that situation,” Gootkin said.

Ryan Mattson, who oversees crisis services for Western Montana Mental Health, said the program was modeled after a similar one in Loveland, Colorado, where he acted as a crisis intervention therapist before he moved to Montana.

“The collaboration between Western and law enforcement has been mind-blowing,” Mattson said. “It’s a new and exciting time and not only for crisis services here, this gets Montana to the cutting edge of what the rest of the nation is doing in public health.”

Michael Foust, of Western Montana Mental Health, said talks about the program began in 2017, when Bozeman Health hosted a series of meetings on how to improve behavioral health in Southwest Montana.

Foust said a workgroup that formed out of that interviewed more than 80 people on crisis intervention, including those who live with a mental illness, families, law enforcement and providers.


“The individuals having a mental health emergency and their families are fearful of the system and those often intervening are in fear as well, they don’t want to make things worse,” Foust said. “We needed someone trained in mental health to meet people at their front door and in their living room.”

The health center also hired a community support specialist to connect people impacted by a crisis to services long after the call for help went out. That includes the person experiencing a health issue and their family or friends.

Agencies are creating standards for calls so the response works the same from the edges of Gallatin County to the core of Bozeman. The program will collect data around how many calls are tied to mental health issues and the impact of the crisis response team.

Foust said the pilot program was designed to give the effort some time to prove its worth. He said the program will also apply for money through House Bill 660, a new law that offers grants to mobile crisis units.

Foust said the vision is to hire a second therapist later this year and have a health provider eventually join the team so people can get medical care without a trip to the hospital.


“We believe this is a model for the state that can and should be replicated,” Foust said. “And we’re just ramping up. Our goal would be to have a minimum of five teams. We’ll expand the program as we have the funding.”


Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle,