HELP IS ON ITS WAY
Four-year-old Washington County Mental Health Response Team program meets people where they are, and with compassion
Editors note: The following story was written following a five-hour ride-along with the Washington County Mental Health Response Team in late September. Last names of the mental health contacts have been omitted at the request of the respective individuals or law enforcement officials.
On a recent crisp autumn day, Washington County Sheriffs Deputy Garrick Garland and Lisa Bevans, a clinician with the Mental Health Response Team, head to a local park to check up on Erin, a client theyve been in contact with on and off for the past year.
This time is only a follow-up visit with the pair, part of the Washington County Sheriffs Departments special mental health team consisting of a specially selected deputy and a trained mental health clinician.
Today, they just want to know how Erin (who asked that neither her first nor last name be used) is doing.
Once the deputy and the clinician (Bevans wears a distinctive black shirt with Mental Health Response Team clearly embroidered on one side) arrive at the park, Erin begins chatting with Bevans, a former U.S. Army nurse who still retains much of her Arkansas twang.
Before long, Erin is talking with Garland as well.
Erin, 30, who has had contact with the Mental Health Response Team several times over the last year for threatening to commit suicide, says shes in a much better place today.
I think its pretty helpful, she says of her talks and email exchanges with the pair. I will email Deputy Garland sometimes just to check in.
Erin was introduced to Garland and Bevans about a year ago through Sgt. Ron Medlock, who supervises the Mental Health Response Team for the Washington County Sheriffs Office. She has been corresponding with them ever since as she continues to battle alcohol abuse and depression.
These guys were cool, Erin says, noting that when she first started getting sober, she had lots of ups and downs and was depressed. They were pretty much my support group.
Medlock says he remembers one of his encounters with Erin where he told her he wasnt going to judge her if she started an alcohol recovery program but fell off the wagon.
I said, if you fail, thats OK. Well be there to catch you, Medlock recalls.
On some days shell talk with Bevans to get a therapists point of view. On other days, shell talk with Garland because hes a goofy guy and he tells you stuff.
To me, I wouldnt be 11 months sober and doing so well without these people, says Erin, adding that the pair have been there for her through the hard times. I think just them being on the road probably helps a lot of people out.
Bevans says what makes the contact with Erin special is the team gets to see someone get better.
I just hope her success continues, Bevans says.
Two teams out each day
Every day is an adventure, Bevans says of her job. She is employed by LifeWorks Northwest, a nonprofit mental health organization that contracts with the Washington County Mental Health Department to provide services.
On any given day, the Mental Health Response Team known simply to those on the team as MHRT is out in the field trying to prevent an incident involving a person with a mental health or personal crisis from escalating.
We have two teams out at one time every day, says Medlock. We go anywhere in Washington County regardless of jurisdiction.
Not surprisingly, Beaverton and Hillsboro, the countys two largest cities, are the top users of the team, which consists of four full-time deputies and an equal number of clinicians. Other deputies and clinicians fill in on a part-time basis.
The Mental Health Response Team started as a pilot project with the sheriffs department in 2011 before being fully implemented. The deputies positions are funded through the sheriffs levy; the clinicians by Washington County Mental Health Department.
When the MHRT was first proposed, Medlock says he had his doubts about its effectiveness, believing it would be nothing more than a feel-good, Band-Aid approach to law enforcement.
Four years into the program, hes sold on its effectiveness.
It has worked and now Im its biggest cheerleader, says Medlock, noting that the team has reduced the number of times sheriffs deputies have had to call out the Washington County Tactical Negotiations Team (effectively the countys SWAT unit).
This has probably been the smoothest thing Ive had to supervise while being a sergeant, he notes.
In fact, the program has worked so well, the number of calls for the team has grown exponentially over the years.
In 2013, 1,455 calls were logged, followed by 3,245 in 2014 with those numbers likely hitting 5,000 calls before the end of 2015.
Medlock says while the criminal justice systems goal is to hold people accountable, that doesnt always mean hauling them off to jail if theres another solution that will work.
(See Doughnut Therapy sidebar.)
Kris Miller, the LifeWorks Northwests program director for the Mental Health Response Team, says the teams often resolve a lot of situations on site instead of having to transport residents to the emergency room, often by suggesting specific resources that a person with a mental health crisis can use.
I may have saved his life
When out on their shift, the Garland/Bevans team often finds that everybody they come into contact with needs a
trip to the hospital for treatment.
We get a lot of interaction with people some interesting people, says Garland. Its hard to quantify how many people weve helped or saved.
Garland says he and Bevans once came upon a situation where a man was using his fingernail to saw on his wrist but his brain was full of suicide. He told them his brain was also telling him to do more.
They soon discovered he was walking around with a 9-inch steak knife they took away from him.
So that was a save, Garland pointed out. Were supposed to be creative; think outside the box.
Then there was the time someone was suffering from a mental health crisis and the team took him to the hospital for treatment.
At the hospital, during their evaluation of him a brain tumor was discovered ... and I may have saved his life, Garland points out.
Theres also a lot of triaging on the fly, assessing one situation as another one comes up, Garland notes.
Overall, Garland says, the deputies and clinicians are good at talking people down.
Like all Washington County Sheriffs deputies, Garland carries a Buddy Bear in his
car to give to anyone going through a stressful situation.
In addition, he carries with him a rarer commodity, Hope rocks (a polished rock with the word Hope engraved into it). He doesnt distribute them often, making them a special gift to someone whos gone through a stressful ordeal. Up to this point, he has only given out two of them.
Aimed in the right direction
Later in the day, Garland and Bevans meet up with Steve for a follow-up. Hes doing a lot better than a year ago when deputies came in contact with him at his eastern Washington County home.
So does he appreciate the MHRT checking up on him to make sure hes doing OK?
Yes, says Steve, noting that hes in a better place than a year ago, pointing out that hed probably be behind bars if he hadnt met the pair.
They got me aimed in the right direction, he says. I think next to God, theyre the ones who saved my life.
Their final call for the day is with Cassandra, who they meet at an apartment complex with her mother. A short time ago, she was having a crisis that Garland and Bevans responded to. They tell her how much better she looks than a week or so ago when they first had contact with her.
Cassandra says when the pair talked to her they were extremely supportive and non-judgmental.
Its a really special, important program, she says of the MHRT. Im really glad this is available.
Cassandras mother says she appreciated the fact the team showed compassion, which she says goes a long ways.
Before they leave, Garland reaches into his pocket and pulls out the Hope rock hes been carrying for quite a while. He hands it to Cassandra, who smiles and thanks him.