Pat McDonald and Ben Kinsley are co-hosts of the show “Vote for Vermont.” They have covered Vermont’s mental health crisis in several shows in the past few months. In a recent show, Mary Moulton, Executive Director of Washington County Mental Health Services, and members of her staff spoke highly about a new program called Team Two. The program is about bringing mental health professionals and first responders together to train on techniques for handling individuals with mental health and intellectual disabilities. This helps to ensure a successful response during a mental health crisis. To learn more about the program Pat and Ben invited Kristin Chandler, Team Two Coordinator, and Chief Tony Facos, Montpelier PD, on the show to talk about the program.
Act 80, passed in 2006, mandated training for law enforcement personnel in Vermont. This requirement was put in place in response to the Woodward shooting in West Brattleboro. Act 79, passed in 2012, expanded training supported by funding received from the Federal Government in response to Tropical Storm Irene.
Team Two is the brainchild of Mary Moulton and takes this training to a new level. It includes all personnel involved in responding to a mental health crisis to include law enforcement, mental health and developmental services crisis clinicians, and police dispatchers. As the program has progressed other entities are or will be included such as 911 operators, EMT and state’s attorneys.
Team Two training is offered in five regions around Vermont with thirty-eight trainers. Over three quarters of police departments around the state have taken advantage of the training. The training consists of table top scenarios to ensure that all who arrive on a scene are trained and all on the same page when dealing with someone having a mental health crisis. The training focuses on safety, clinical and legal aspects of a mental health crisis.
At the scene they are trained to assess what is happening, deal with the emergency and de-escalate the situation in a way that complies with the law, responds to the medical needs of the individual in crisis and provides for the safety of everyone at the scene. This training is successful because it ensures continuity of understanding between all first responders and a common knowledge base to work from; sometimes they even know each other from attending the same class. Dispatchers are usually the first point of contact and the importance of their role cannot be overstated which is why they are included in this training. It is very beneficial for the first responders to get as much information as possible from dispatchers before they arrive at the scene and having an accurate assessment of the situation.
Of equal importance is the de-briefing that occurs after every incident. These de-briefings help to set the scenarios that will be used in trainings every year. Calls are also made around the five regions to find out what the “hot topics” are. For example two years ago autism was recognized as a condition that first responders should be equipped to address.
Treating an individual with autism takes a different approach than other conditions and it’s important for first responders to recognize very early on that they are dealing with an individual on the autism spectrum. The same holds true when responding to individuals with intellectual disabilities, depression, schizophrenia, or extreme paranoia. Even dealing with a child, who may not have the maturity to deal with difficult situations, requires a different approach. Early identification of a mental illness or communication disability is critical for first responders trying to understand what kind of crisis is occurring and how to address it.
The Legislature, through H.145, authorized the formation of the Mental Health Crisis Response Commission which is very helpful in identifying gaps in the program and system. For example staff shortages, lack of beds, availability of services, funding, etc.
Team Two publishes an e-bulletin called Good News. It’s an effort to tell positive stories about the outcome of the training and cooperation between the various entities who are working together to solve problems.
Team Two continues to be funded on a year-to-year basis by the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Public Safety, through a grant awarded to the Vermont Care Partners (VCP).
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