MCRT project to improve mental health system of care in Otero County

December 14, 2020

In late 2019, the City of Alamogordo and the Otero County Health Council, with support from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, set out to improve the Alamogordo area mental health system of care by implementing a Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) project. This large-scale coordinated effort required partnerships with healthcare system, crisis response providers and peer recovery specialists in the City of Alamogordo and within Otero County.

Alamogordo’s MCRT project works to reduce unnecessary law enforcement involvement when calls are made to 9-1-1, the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line or the Alamogordo Police Department for help in addressing mental health or substance use crisis situations. The trained response team is dispatched. They work to diffuse the situation and connect the person in need with an appropriate facility staffed with trained professionals who work to stabilize the situation and provide support for successful recovery.

When COVID 19 hit, some components of the project met with barriers requiring shifts in the use of technology and connecting partners through virtual sessions as opposed to face-to-face. Ms. Jeanette Borunda, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Project Clinical Director, explains “the community never faltered, even in the face of such difficult challenges. Policies and protocols were revised and piloted with a trained team to launch only a couple of weeks behind schedule.” Mobile Crisis Response Teams (MCRTs) are a recognized and established evidence-based best practice endorsed by policing subject matter experts (SMEs) and organizations to include the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The goal to establish the MCRT came from recommendations made in a 2018 Sequential Intercept Mapping (SIM). This document was developed with input from Otero County Health Council members and with guidance from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s GAINS Center.

Alamogordo Police Chief Richard Denton stated, “thanks to determined leaders and a strong community collaboration there is now a pathway to help people in crisis connect with the care and support they need to prevent tragedy. With the support from city officials and community partners, the MCRT project has already seen positive results.” For example, in late October and early November, the Alamogordo Police Department documented three encounters where the timely response from a trained team helped preserve lives of individuals in crisis. These individuals and their families now have an opportunity to recover to live a better quality of life with the coordinated support from community service providers and peer advocates.

Each year in the United States, more than two million people living with a serious mental illness are detained and jailed. The majority of these people are also dealing with addiction and substance use disorders, and yet existing systems at local levels are rarely designed to support individual and community health and public safety. The Alamogordo Police Department (APD) consists of 59 sworn personnel and 24 civilian staff. David Kunihiro Deputy Police Chief commented, “the MCRT and related policy and practice improvements will contribute to preventing inappropriate justice involvement for people living with mental illness including substance use conditions. As we close a difficult 2020, this project is a great asset to help our community address the emotional strain of COVID 19. We look forward to continued progress in building a world class mental health system of care for Otero County’s approximately 65,000 residents.”

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