Erlanger Behavioral Hospital on Monday celebrated a one-year partnership with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office, Chattanooga Police Department and Amerimed EMS to provide psychiatric transportation to those in need during a mental health crisis. Hamilton County is only the second county in Tennessee to have this service.
It is the Sheriff's Department that is responsible for responding and getting a patient with a mental health emergency to a medical facility.
Before the initiative was established, that meant using handcuffs and putting the person in the back of a squad car.
"Hamilton County is fortunate to have first responders at both the Sheriff’s Department and the Chattanooga Police Department who are trained to deescalate a crisis and get that person to the hospital for help," said Eve Nite, from Erlanger’s Behavioral Health Hospital. With the new program, law enforcement makes a determination if there is a criminal situation or an illness and secures the scene and calls Amerimed to transport the patient in an ambulance.
The ambulance is equipped to treat the entire patient, both mentally and physically. It was said that some altered mental states can be because of heart issues, high blood pressure, diabetes or hypoglycemia and the symptoms appear as aggression. Equipment to treat these issues are available in the ambulance in addition to a person riding in the back who can monitor the patient and hear their story.
Dixon Marlow, president of Amerimed EMS, said that in the first year of this program it has had a positive impact and has touched 4,000 lives. About a dozen of these patients have had a medical issue and this service has allowed them a better outcome.
Crisis Coordinator with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department Eliott Mahaffey said that providing the compassionate care and response could not be done without all the partners and their expertise. The goal of these Crisis Intervention Teams is first to interact with the person in crisis. The CIT seeks to improve outcomes across the system and makes sure that the patients are treated well and to act as advocates for them. Moving a patient from the back of a squad car into the back of an ambulance prevents them from feeling like they are being treated like a criminal, he said.
Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy said that the process of refinement is part of the job and this service is a result of figuring out a better way to do it. It is a more compassionate, caring and a safer way to get people to a medical facility for the help that they need, he said.