Gerard Cyranowski, a vice president at Meridian Health Services in Delaware County, Indiana, believes working to assist people experiencing mental health crises is best done collaboratively.
“Before, there was often very little communication among the people in our community who were doing this work,” he said. “But several years ago we had a push in Delaware County (Muncie, IN) to start coordinating mental health care providers and law enforcement, and then collaboration really took off.”
That push led Meridian Health Services, which provides integrated health care throughout Indiana, to partner with Ball State University’s criminal justice program and Delaware County Community Corrections in 2011 to apply for a Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) planning grant. They were awarded a grant that year to design a two-track program that would offer crisis intervention training (CIT) to local law enforcement and also divert individuals with mental health issues from jail when appropriate. They’re currently applying for a two-year extension grant to expand the programming.
Today, Delaware County’s CIT classes, include representatives from the prosecutor’s office, the city and county governments, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, local hospitals, and the police and sheriff’s departments. The 5-day, 40-hour trainings occur twice a year, with several daylong refresher courses offered between the full sessions. Currently there are 59 CIT-trained officers in Delaware County, and 25 more officers will be trained in September. A JMHCP extension grant would help fund two more 40-hour classes, each enrolling 25 officers.
“We’re hoping to expand the training to emergency dispatchers and correctional officers, too,” Cyranowski said.
Cyranowski has heard from community members who work with people with mental disorders, that the CIT instruction has been effective. The trained officers, Cyranowski said, “approach situations involving someone with a mental illness differently now. They are more patient and less confrontational.”
Not that there haven’t been challenges. A major difficulty has been capturing data about CIT encounters in Delaware County. According to Cyranowski, only one law enforcement agency in Indiana has a system that records detailed information about CIT calls. With the additional funding support, he said, developing a system to record and evaluate CIT data would be a priority.
The second track of Delaware County’s program—jail diversion—seeks both to identify at intake people with mental health needs and design reentry plans for them, and also to keep such individuals arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors out of jail in the first place.
Since February 2014, more than 150 inmates have been screened upon intake, and many have been successfully connected to behavioral health services upon their release.
“Those discharge plans have been a very good thing,” Cyranowski said. “As far as keeping people [experiencing mental health crises] out of jail, we’re not yet where we want to eventually be. But we’re working on it.”