County ups mental health crisis response

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Having gained $6.5 million in state grants, Humboldt County is setting up programs that will connect children and adults to mental health specialists based in schools and in mobile response teams. 

The county is one of only a few counties whose mental health programs have been funded through a $20 million round of state grants for improving responses to mental health crises. 

Humboldt has been awarded three grants. The most substantial is $5.2 million for partnering with the Humboldt County Office of Education to establish school-based teams of mental health clinicians in each region of the county. 

An additional $1.2 million enhances the staffing of the county’s adult and children’s Mobile Response Team units, which travel to where crisis stabilization services are needed. 

The grant-funded staffing will improve the county’s ability to reach people who need mental health services, including residents of outlying areas. 

“What we’re excited about, especially with the school-based grant, is having teams of mental health staff that are based in those regions and are in the schools where students are every day,” said Jeremy Nilsen, deputy director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Mental Health Branch. 

He added that the mental health specialists will be able to “respond to a crisis situation or a student who is potentially heading toward a crisis and they can intervene, provide some stabilization services and then also connect them with more services and support more quickly than we were previously able to do.”

Five schools in each region of the county will host the mental health services teams, which will be available for response to any school in each region. A sixth program sponsored through the Office of Education will generally focus on preschool-age services. 

The grant pays for 16 staffers, including clinicians, case managers and mental health supervisors. Their hiring will be split between the county and school districts. 

Nilsen described how the school teams will work – and the role of the county’s greater network of mental health support. 

The initial response to a student in crisis or at risk of one will be the beginning of a more comprehensive approach. “That team will work closely with the student and the school and the family to talk about what kinds of long term supports the student needs,” he said. 

The more extensive support would include referrals to long term counseling, therapy, medication and other consistent sources of help. 

Nilsen said that although the county and schools have a longstanding partnership, the new program’s crisis response capability is “definitely a new path that we’re able to go down with this grant funding.” 

The importance of school-based services was highlighted in a June 2018 county press release that announced the state’s grant approval. “Local students and families confront mental health challenges every day both at home and school,” said Jack Bareilles, grants and evaluation administrator for the Northern Humboldt Union High School District, in the release. “This award will allow DHHS and the schools to hire school-based staff to directly serve children where they are 180 days a year—at the schools.” 

The adult and children’s Mobile Response Team enhancement will allow travelling county clinicians to provide direct crisis stabilization services from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. 

The adult team’s staffing will be bolstered with the addition of two clinicians, two peer coaches and a mental health case manager. “They can go and do that full crisis assessment and do crisis stabilization and then determine if a higher level of crisis intervention is needed,” Nilsen said.

Higher level of response could include hospitalization. But the work of the mobile teams reduces the need for treatment at Semper Virens, the county’s inpatient facility. 

“They’re really helping to divert some of those situations that typically might have filled up the Semper Virens staff with crisis stabilization and handle that more in the field, where it can happen more quickly,”  Nilsen said. “That’s really helped ease the flow into Semper Virens and our crisis stabilization unit there.” 

Nilsen added that with the grants, the county is able to “provide crisis services more quickly, whether it’s an adult or student or a family, and connect them to the appropriate level of services more quickly and more efficiently – and hopefully prevent a future crisis.” 

Implementation of the school-based program and Mobile Response Team enhancements will begin soon. The process of staff recruitment is underway and some positions have already been filled. 


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