Burden of closed mental health line could fall on police

Financial issues are forcing a mental health crisis hotline in Minnesota to hang up, and that means police will be picking up the slack. West St. Paul police sat down with Adrienne Broaddus to talk about the issue. http://kare11.tv/2sScVHu

Financial issues are forcing a mental health crisis hotline in Minnesota to hang up, and that means police will be picking up the slack.

For nearly 50 years, counselors at Crisis Connection have helped people in crisis 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If you made a call, that help on the other end was free.

"We had 50,000 calls come into the center," Matt Eastwood of Canvas Health says of last year's numbers. "We answered 35,000. This year, we are well above that."

RELATED: Minn. mental health hotline closing

So what happens when the line disconnects Friday?

"Our message is for anyone experiencing mental crisis to call 911," says Eastwood.

But calling police creates a different challenge. Officers with West Saint Paul Police have already experienced that.

"Within the last five years, not only is our job getting more difficult, we are ... being asked to do a lot of different things and some of them are responding to mental health crisis," said West St. Paul Police Sgt. Matt Muellner.

"We are cops," said Investigator Shannon Mitchell. "We all have a plethora of training and we are all really good at being able to talk to people, but there is only so much talking we can do."

Muellner said it's not uncommon that they have to send someone to the hospital, only to see them released right away.

"Three hours later we are right back dealing with it again," he said.

Crisis Connection is closing because it didn't secure funding from the state to stay open. By contrast, the state approved funding for crisis intervention training. 

"I think it gets to be a point where, how much training is too much training?" said Chief Bud Shaver. "These are police officers, not psychologists or social workers."

Combined, these three have nearly 60 years of experience. 

Mitchell said when the hotline closes, a lot will fall on them.

"The call load for our patrol officers will increase," she said.

"Who really suffers the most is the client," said Muellner. "The person in the crisis that calls, or would call a center looking to speak with a professional, is now going to speak with a police officer."

"The whole system really needs to have a discussion on how do we work together better to service these clients and make sure they are getting the help they need and they don't get inappropriately interjected into the criminal justice system," said Chief Shaver. "That isn't going to do them any good."

 

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