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A Mendocino Crisis Van?

Before the next Measure B committee meeting on July 22, let’s make one more attempt to get the moribund Committee to follow through on one of their own recommendations — a crisis van or two for Mendocino County — a recommendation that has since been endorsed by Ukiah Police Chief Justin Wyatt, current Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall and former Sheriff Tom Allman who several years ago was responsible for setting up an earlier version of the crisis van — MOPS, Mobile Outreach and Prevention Services. 

(From the Measure B Committee’s own minutes of their meeting back on November 18, 2018:)

“The program began with one MOPS team serving three areas of the county. The team consists of a Sheriff’s Service Technician and a Behavioral Health Rehab Specialist. The original team found they were spending most of their time in the North County and Covelo and unable to adequately cover the other two areas originally identified for their coverage. A second team was added to cover the south coast areas and a third team was eventually added to cover the Anderson Valley and Hopland areas.

The teams are mobile, working in the communities. Referrals can come from any entity or person. The team goes to the individual’s home, they work on building relationships to help individuals. The communities love the MOPS teams. The teams work to connect those in need with the services they need and support them early to prevent a crisis escalation wherever possible. MOPS teams have been effective in reducing 9-1-1 calls and removing some of the issues from law enforcement. If we add two additional teams, a proposal would have one team covering the north coast (Westport to Little River), that would include the city of Fort Bragg. Another team would cover the inland area of Ukiah, Willits, Potter Valley and Redwood Valley.

Staffing costs $389,600 for two teams per year. We would need two vehicles plus some administrative costs to cover things like gasoline, paper, pens, etc.

Chair Allman hopes we can recommend to the BOS the addition of two MOPS teams to be funded with Measure B services funds.

Member Dr. Ace Barash asked for more information on the services that the teams provide. Member Miller shared that the teams see clients several times a week. They are certified to 5150 clients if necessary. They work with Redwood Quality Management Services and other agencies. They do not respond to crisis calls, they are not 24-7. They are four days a week, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. They can see individuals in jail and offer services when they are released. …

Chair Allman shared that once the February Mendocino County Critical Incident Team (MCCIT) training for first responders occurs, then MCCIT would work with MOPS as well.

Member Mertle stated that the 8:00-5:00 p.m., 4-day a week MOPS teams could not respond to the crisis calls, this isn’t what we need. This isn’t going to reduce your calls.

Chair Allman shared that four days a week those potential, frequent flier 5150 calls are getting attention and it reduces the 5150 calls in that category.

Member Mertle asked Chair Allman if the Sheriff’s Office has seen a reduction in crisis calls since the MOPS program began. Chair Allman shared that in the first 12 months of the program, his office saw a 100% reduction in crisis in 9-1-1 calls coming to the Sheriff’s Office. There were some seen by MOPS and then went into crisis mode, but easily over 90% of the people that MOPS see are no longer being crisis 9-1-1, 5150 holds. Member Miller said that although MOPS isn’t going out in the moment of crisis, the communities are calling earlier for their services, pre-crisis, so the services are getting started earlier when needed.

Member McGourty reminded that the Kemper Report stated more services were needed out in the communities of the outlying areas of the county. When BHAB studied the report, MOPS looked like a quick and easy way to accomplish this because it has been effective. But, with the condition that there be a representative from the Sheriff’s Office on each team, something that is lacking currently.  . . . 

Member Lloyd Weer (County Auditor) would like the addition of two MOPS teams to be added to the proposed budget.

Member Liberty would like to see metrics in place to monitor the effectiveness of the program.  . . .

Motion to recommend to the Board of Supervisors to create two new Mobile Outreach Program (MOPS) teams with Measure B services funds; and the collection of measurable metrics for the determination of the effectiveness of the program to be reviewed at every six month interval to determine ongoing effectives; by Member McGourty seconded by Member Mertle.

Approved unanimously.”

The Board of Supervisors subsequently approved this recommendation and associated funding.

Again, this was from their own minutes of a November of 2018 meeting. Since then the MOPS program has collapsed. Sheriff Allman told the Supes in 2019 that it collapsed because the woman who was leading it retired. End of discussion.

Although approved and funded, the two new MOPS teams that the Measure B committee approved of were never hired — there was no program to hire them into. When we asked Sheriff Kendall about the MOPS program a few weeks ago he just laughed and said it was no longer in service (although it still appears on the County’s website of mental health services complete with phone number). 

Despite the unanimous support of the program — and even its expansion — by the Measure B committee members and the Board of Supervisors, the subject of its status, much less its reinvigoration or expansion, has not arisen since November of 2018.

A year later in September of 2019, Ukiah Police Chief Justin Wyatt urged the Committee to explore a Eugene, Oregon style crisis van program called CAHOOTS. Again, everyone liked the idea and agreed to pursue it.

As we reported at the time: 

Redwood Quality Management Director Dan Anderson said he was familiar with the CAHOOts concept and that his company gets “occasional requests to be mobile. We struggle to do that. But it’s haphazard; not coordinated with dispatch or law enforcement. We don’t know when; there’s no plan. It’s inconsistent and stressful. There are no clear directions. It’s off kilter.” In other words, a standard Mendo approach.

Anderson added that the idea would be “important to pursue. We would love to partner and be more mobile. It’s a good program. CAHOOTS is a place to begin. We should invite somebody down from Eugene. It would also allow patients to de-tox.”

The County’s Mental Health Director, Dr. Jenine Miller, agreed, saying she worked on a similar program in San Francisco before working for Mendo and it worked well. (So why didn’t she bring it up long ago? Don’t ask.) Miller also thought that the crisis van staff should have the ability to administer meds in the field. However, Miller muddied the water by suggesting they look at “the full spectrum of [crisis van] models.” (This alone means that any real consideration of the idea will be delayed by who knows how many more years.)

Measure B Committee Chair Dr. Ace Barash said he expected that the subject would be on their agenda next month when they would conduct a “robust discussion” of it. (Translation: We will talk about it for a while but never do a single thing. If they were serious, they’d have tasked somebody to do a presentation on the viability of a pilot program next month. But that’s obviously too much to ask.)

Now here we are in July of 2020 and there’s a national and local discussion of various law enforcement reform ideas, one key provision of which is to reduce the involvement of cops in mental health incidents because they can escalate into unintended violence. Law enforcement critics and law enforcement itself generally agrees that unless there’s a serious underlying crime or imminent threat involved, cops should not respond to mental health calls. And even when there is a crime, once the situation is “de-escalated” (to use the latest reform buzzword), the perp turned patient should be handled by mental health staff, not cops.

Sheriff Matt Kendall is already on record saying that a CAHOOTS-like program now in successful operation for over two years in Butte County (Chico area) would be a good program to implement in Mendo. Besides Butte County, Sonoma County, Alameda County and San Francisco also have crisis van programs in place with known usable, tried and true protocols and procedures, so few new rules would need to be developed. The existing but dormant MOPS program could be easily expanded to include crisis van elements, with no increase in staffing, training or funding.

So what do we have: 

Funding, unanimous support and existing programs in other counties as prototypes for a program that would non-controversially deal with one of the main demands of the law enforcement reform movement now underway.

But, besides an occasional passing mention without follow-up, total and complete inaction from Official Mendo. 

UPDATE: Just this week, an informal draft proposal from the Behavioral Health Advisory Board which includes the following item prepared by County Mental Health Director Jenine Miller is being talked about as under consideration for submission to the Measure B committee for discussion at their upcoming July 22 meeting. Unfortunately, we don’t see anything about the Behavioral Health Advisory Board or its proposals, including the Mobile Crisis Team,” on their July 22 agenda. Perhaps it will come up under “Committee Member Reports regarding items of General Interest.” But, given the Measure B Committee’s dismal do-nothing record, we’re skeptical that it will even come up, much less be approved for recommendation to the Supervisors:

Mobile Crisis Team – This recommendation proposes a pilot program that would shift from a Mobile Outreach and Prevention Services to a Mobile Crisis Team that would provide three Mental Health Rehabilitation Specialists to respond and ride along with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. Data is available that shows these teams can be very effective and supportive for the individual involved in a mental health crisis. The collaboration recommends that Measure B allocate Three Hundred Forty Thousand Dollars ($340,000) per year for 4 years to fund the Mobile Support Team program. We also recommend that outcome statics are tracked and reported, so that information can be provided on the success of this program.”

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