After years of playing catch-and-release with the area's untreated mentally ill population, the city stumbled upon a challenging truth: That game is expensive.
Without proper treatment, people with mental illnesses become familiar faces at jails and hospitals. In 2005, for instance, about 50 percent of mentally ill inmates in the El Paso County Jail had been incarcerated five or more times.
"I think the unmet needs of behavioral health are growing in our community, and in fact, are growing nationwide," says Sharon Raggio, chief operating officer of Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group.
Fountain's Police Department took a stab at addressing the issue in 2003 when it began a grant-funded special training program for officers.
Crisis Intervention Team training (often called CIT training) teaches police officers how to identify people with mental illness and how to de-escalate crisis situations involving those people. The training met with success, and was later adopted in Colorado Springs.
But that program only took on part of the problem.
"Now the officer is better equipped in addressing that person, so that's great news," Raggio says. "But what's missing is what's next. ... How are the people who come to the attention of officers with behavioral health concerns engaged in follow-up?"
That's where a brand-new program for Colorado Springs comes in, offering free mental-health services for one year to people in the downtown area who are suffering with mental illnesses.
The Case Management Pilot Project resulted from years of brainstorming by the Crisis Intervention Community Oversight Committee, comprised of police and representatives from Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Memorial Hospital, Homeward Pikes Peak and other groups. It was made possible by the police department's Molly Miles, who secured an $86,204 federal grant that, along with donations, will fund the project. It is scheduled to start in October.
Under the program, Pikes Peak Mental Health (a subsidiary of Pikes Peak Behavioral Health) will hire two outreach workers, one full-time and one part-time. The outreach workers will team with police to identify potential patients through ride-alongs, phone calls and follow-ups and offer free evaluations, counseling and medication.
"I think, really, the first order of business is engaging people and developing a relationship, so that the person is more motivated to engage and participate in treatment," Raggio says.
Organizers expect nearly 250 people will be contacted through the program, with more than 50 signing up for ongoing treatment.
Miles is also waiting to hear back on her application for a $248,000 grant that would allow Colorado Springs to expand the program citywide.
Because funding is limited, counselors will likely help patients apply for programs like Medicaid and Social Security Disability Insurance, which could help pay for continued treatment. Counselors will also refer patients to programs that provide shelter, food and job training and placement.
Police Sgt. Howard Black, who helped plan the program, says police are looking for proactive solutions.
"It isn't just about the police; it's about all parts of the system," Black says. "What we're trying to do is make this a collaborative effort."
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