Avera Medical Minute: Virtual Crisis Care pilot program to rely on Avera Behavioral Health experts

Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 10:46 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -

In a joint announcement, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, South Dakota Supreme Court, and Avera Behavioral Health announced a new tool that law enforcement will have when it comes to dealing with mental health issues when they answer a call.

When law enforcement answers a call, it's often during a crisis.

"What are they going to do about it at 230 in the morning, in a rural county? Currently, probably not very much," said Chief Justice David Gilbertson of the South Dakota Supreme Court

Before the new Virtual Crisis Care pilot program, now underway in 23 counties, getting care for someone with a mental health crisis took hours.

Sheriff Fred Lamphere has been in law enforcement for 18 years, currently in Butte County.

"We take this person to the nearest mental health care facility. In our case, sometimes if Rapid City is consumed, it's on to Yankton or Sioux Falls so it's for us it's a, it's a very lengthy experience," Lamphere.

Now, with a tablet in hand, an officer has access to an Avera eCare mental health professional to help within minutes. Dr. Matthew Stanley is the Vice President at Avera Behavioral Health.

"Determine what level of care they need and to see if we can de-escalate the situation, so that they can either stay where they are or we can get them to the right level of care, rather than just defaulting to the highest level of care available," said Dr. Stanley.

The program partners believe a person in a crisis can be served better than being transported to a mental health assessment up to 7 hours away.

"So the idea that we could go out and do mobile crisis with law enforcement so the patients could stay in their home, stay in their community not end up in an emergency room, not end up in the hospital unless they needed to. That was, that would be a tremendous benefit to the patient and save thousands of dollars and save law enforcement," said Stanley.

Law enforcement is trained for mental health situations. Having an Avera eCARE behavioral health professional-just one click away provides the next level of care.

"When someone is in a mental health crisis, who do they call? Generally, law enforcement is involved. The arrest part of what we do is a very small percentage. We respond to a lot of situations where people don't get arrested. We respond and help take care of people," said Lamphere.

Walter Panzirer is a trustee for the Helmsley Charitable trust. He has previous experience as an officer in South Dakota. "The rest of the nation is going to be watching the outcomes of this study. And it's my belief that once they see these outcomes, you're going to see this type of program spread all over the place. This is truly the only way to answer the shortage of providers, plus the increasing mental health care strain that all the communities, rural and urban are facing," said Panzirer.

Today’s written announcement indicates that 1 in 10 calls made by police could include a mental health situation, the pilot program is going to continue till June of 2021.

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