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Upper Valley First Responders Can Now Call A Mobile Crisis Unit When Responding To A Mental Health Call

Doug Kerr

Upper Valley first responders will now be able to call a mobile crisis unit staffed by mental health professionals for mental health crises and other social issues. Other times, situations may be resolved over the phone through the crisis line, which is also available 24 hours a day to the community at large. Individuals can call that line if they need it, at 1-800-564-2578.

Lebanon’s Police Chief, Phil Roberts, says his department has experienced a significant increase in mental health crisis calls since the start of the pandemic. He says having a crisis team on call will offer better services to the community than police officers can.

“In real time, in a majority of these scenarios, to respond, come, assess it, is there anything else that law enforcement can do here? No. Ok well, are these other services, substance abuse counseling, mental health, follow up with a counselor,” he says.

Other times, police may come into contact with someone experiencing homelessness or substance abuse.

“Those may not be on a daily basis, and we don’t always have the resources,” he says. “We can assist someone in securing maybe housing for the night, or making a recommendation to someone with substance abuse. But we don’t have the ability to follow up days and weeks after.”

This collaboration with West Central Behavioral Health started a few weeks ago. Roger Osmun, the non-profit’s CEO, says his organization is working on educating local police departments and the community at large about the new service.

“We're hoping that if they contact us early enough, we can come into their home, school or community and help them manage the crisis, de-escalate and connect with more routine services.”

West Central is still in the process of hiring half of the unit’s staff. The goal is to have a staff that is a quarter peer-support, a quarter with bachelor’s degrees in related fields and half master’s level clinicians, says Bill Metcalfe, director of non-profit’s mobile crisis services.

“We’re advertising, doing a lot of presentations, and a lot of outreach to get the word out there,” Metcalfe says.

The crisis team has two people on call during three eight-hour shifts that can go out to handle calls in person.

New Hampshire’s 10 community mental health centers are moving forward this year with expanding emergency services, following the approval of increased funding from the state.

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Daniela is an editor in NHPR's newsroom. She leads NHPR's Spanish language news initiative, ¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire? and the station's climate change reporting project, By Degrees. You can email her at dallee@nhpr.org.

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