At the Oct. 5 Flagstaff City Council meeting, Terros Health was awarded the contract for Flagstaff’s Alternate Response Model mobile care unit. The public health service will support the city’s police and fire departments by responding to substance abuse and mental-health related 911 calls.

Prior to the contract’s approval, Flagstaff Deputy City Manager Shannon Anderson presented the scope of the mobile care unit’s work to city council. These specifications were drafted by a team of city and tribal officials, community members and representatives of the Criminal Justice Institute and the NARBHA Institute.

Anderson stated the police and fire departments responded to just over 9,000 substance abuse and mental-health related calls in 2020, an increase of nearly 10% from 2019. In order to alleviate pressure from  the high volume of crisis calls, Anderson explained alternate support will be available 10 hours a day, seven days a week. The unit aims to reduce the police and fire department’s calls for service by 5 to 10%.

“Adding this additional response team to address substance, mental, behavioral or crisis-related calls is of great service to the community,” Anderson said. “It frees up the fire and police departments to respond to calls needing their expertise and uses behavioral health professionals where they’re needed.”

Anderson described Terros Health’s mobile care unit as offering a more appropriate level of care to individuals in need, while also being better equipped to deescalate sensitive situations. The unit, operated from a van, will consist of a behavioral health professional from Terros Health and a emergency medical technician (EMT). 

The van will be outfitted with supplies like food, water, blankets and toiletries, Anderson explained. Items of cultural value, such as sage, abalone shells and cedar, will also be included to help Indigenous community members feel more comfortable while receiving help from the mobile care unit.

To ensure those operating the mobile care unit are prepared for each call they respond to, several oversight positions will be filled to assist with the procedures, training and development of the unit. The health director of Northern Arizona Crisis Services, the senior director of Crisis Services, a clinical manager and a lead crisis specialist will offer the unit consultation and management.

The unit’s impact will be measured by monthly, quarterly and annual reports, which provide data that can be used to determine whether the service is meeting the community’s needs and to record any trends for further analysis. These reports are designed to assess the unit’s performance in responding to substance abuse and mental health-related 911 calls, as well as diminishing arrests, bookings and prosecutions for crisis-related calls.

Flagstaff Fire Chief Mark Gaillard explained how, as the mobile unit responds and gains more experience deescalating crisis calls, Terros Health, along with the police and fire departments, will develop the unit to benefit the community as much as possible. Gaillard noted the knowledge gained from the unit’s operation will serve all involved in learning the most effective ways to serve those in need.

“I want to remind everyone that this activity is such a high-volume activity in our community that no single unit is going to address the need,” Gaillard said. “We can make a big impact, we can take some of the stress off our police and firefighters, and the emergency part of the services we provide certainly is something that’s important, but it’s not a panacea to the demand.”

As the unit interacts and gains familiarity with the community, the developments made will create possibilities for expansions that can come closer to meeting the described demand. Gaillard referred to the current state of planning as a starting point, from which Terros Health and first responders are open to change.

Sgt. Odis Brockman, Flagstaff Police Department’s public affairs officer, described a positive outlook for the outcome of the unit’s support.

“It’s going to allow officers to be more proactive and be able to do more community engagement, [like] get out of the car once in a while and say hello to people, instead of [giving] a wave as we’re passing because we’re on the way to another call,” Brockman said.

In addition to having more interaction and engagement with the community, Brockman explained officers will have the opportunity to respond to calls more quickly and to use the best resources for each situation. 

As more aspects of the alternate response care model move toward approval, such as a care center that would provide a home base for the model’s efforts, the crisis response offered by the mobile care unit will be expanded in the future. This mobile unit will provide the first glimpses as to how, specifically, the alternate response model will impact the community.

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