CIT center funds awarded

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Recently approved funding to develop a therapeutic assessment center in Suffolk will help the city and neighboring communities better handle mental health crises.

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services approved the funds for the Crisis Intervention Team Therapeutic Assessment Center, said Brandon Rodgers, administrator of program and service development for the Western Tidewater Community Services Board.

He said the center, to be located at Sentara Obici Hospital’s emergency department, will help triage cases, work on alternatives to hospitalization and allow law enforcement officers to get back on the street more quickly.

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“It’s a big boost to the community,” Rodgers said, noting a soft launch will start in September at community services board offices while Obici completes renovations needed to accommodate the center. It should officially open in October, he said.

Currently, an individual undergoing a mental health crisis is taken into custody by a law enforcement officer if he or she is determined to be a danger to themselves or others, Rodgers said.

The individual is brought to a screener for assessment, which can take 30 to 90 minutes. If they meet criteria for hospitalization, a temporary detention order is issued, and the process of trying to find them a bed begins.

“Typically, during that time, an on-duty law enforcement officer is taken off of the street and has to stand by and maintain custody of them,” Rodgers said.

But the new assessment center will have an off-duty officer on staff who can receive custody of the individual.

“The on-duty law enforcement officer can then return back to whatever his or her assignment was previously — back to the streets doing work, rather than maintaining custody of one individual,” Rodgers said.

The center also will add capacity to work with individuals who need extra help but don’t need to be hospitalized, Rodgers said. Being on site at a medical hospital also can help solve physical health issues before the patient is transferred to a mental health hospital if needed, Rodgers added.

“It really streamlines the process and makes it a lot more efficient and less burdensome on everybody involved,” Rodgers said.

The funding for the center is currently $252,148 annually.

The Western Tidewater Crisis Intervention Team has been working together since a grant from the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services was given in 2011. It has trained 107 local law enforcement officers on effective ways to respond to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and how to divert them to treatment options rather than jail.

Outcomes already have been realized, according to a press release from the community services board, including reduced injuries to officers and those experiencing crises.

The new assessment center will serve Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight and Southampton.