The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System to provide a mental health co-responder in an effort to expand their capabilities to handle rising mental health calls.
“The way that Williamson County is growing, it seems like on a daily basis, we are experiencing somebody going through a mental health or emotional crisis, so this is just another tool that we can add to help these individuals out,” Williamson County Sheriff Dusty Rhoades said in a Sept. 20 press conference.
“Our deputies are trained in the basics of trying to work with these individuals who are having a mental health crisis, and we thought, we need to get a program up to try to do a better job to help these people, help the community and help the deputies.”
The new position has been filled by Williamson County Co-Response specialist Alex MacNicol IV and is funded by a grant through next year, with the 40-hour a week position expected to continue to serve through at least 2025.
According to WCSO's 2021 Annual Report, last year WCSO responded to five mental health consumer calls, 71 psychological emergency calls, 24 attempted suicides, 73 threats of suicide and eight suicides, but mental health crises may play a factor in many more calls for service.
MacNicol has already been dispatched on several calls over the past five weeks, responding alongside deputies once a scene has been deemed safe by law enforcement.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Williamson County Sheriff's office to provide an innovative response to individuals in the community experiencing a mental health crisis or some type of distress,” Volunteer Behavioral Health Care System Community Response and Training Director Kelsey Taylor said.
“Our goals and objectives are really to provide faster access to care for these individuals. We want to link them to services. We want to avoid unnecessary ER admissions, unnecessary hospitalizations. We want to utilize every community resource that we can get our hands on.”
Prior to his work in partnership with WCSO, MacNicol gained experience working with people in crisis, including substance abuse, mental health disorders and other social work care, giving him knowledge and access to resources to connect those in need that law enforcement may not be equipped to address.
“Some things that we'll do is look at outpatient treatment — Are they connected? Have they been connected in the past? Can we refer them back? Are they appropriate for inpatient? Can we refer them inpatient voluntarily, versus do we need to sign a document that mandates them to treatment at the scene?” MacNicol said. “We also do follow-up care homes; we will follow up with them after the incident, to see how they're doing. And we provide resources.”
“And sometimes it's a matter of, can we safety-plan them? So they don't have to wonder because they've just removed them from the home, like they go stay with a friend or one of the adults gets a hotel room, so he gets some distance and we don't have to have law enforcement intercede, and we don't have to take away the right to freedom by it, so we try to work to the least restrictive outcome we can.”
While the program is new, Sheriff Rhoades said that his department is looking to expand mental health care both on the streets and in the jail where he said there is room for expanding access to resources for those in need.