As a member of the City Council, I will be intensely involved in improving the outcomes when Portland Police officers interact with people experiencing mental illnesses, and in changing the dispatching protocols for the Bureau of Emergency Communications after changes in training and staffing of police crisis teams are made. In my unique position also being a retired Registered Nurse who worked for 22 years in inpatient psychiatry at OHSU, I will also work on coordination of community mental health care services, as they intersect with police officers' ongoing expectation of being first responders to crisis events in the community.
The proposed Agreement is here. It will be discussed at a public hearing in Council Chambers at 2 p.m. on Thursday, November 1.
My comments at the Press Conference announcing the Settlement with the US Department of Justice on their allegation that the Portland Police Bureau has engaged in unconstitutional use of force against people experiencing mental illnesses:
It is clear that while the County and the State are principally responsible for mental health care services, our police are often first responders to people experiencing mental illnesses in Portland, dispatched by the Bureau of Emergency Communications which I am in charge of.
For three years, I have been working with our community partners including MultnomahCounty, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, Central City Concern, Lifeworks, area hospitals, people with lived experience with mental illness and their advocates, and others to work toward a system of care that provides appropriate and sufficient services for people experiencing mental illness.
This work through Safer PDX, formerly known as the Bazelon Project, resulted in my recommendations for improvements to our regional system of crisis and community mental health care which I shared with the Mayor and the United States Department of Justice earlier this year.
The City’s agreement with the Department of Justice confirms the need for many changes in our City.
The agreement cites:
“The absence of a comprehensive community mental health infrastructure often shifts to law enforcement agencies throughoutOregonthe burden of being first responders to individuals in mental health crisis.”
I agree. This is the reality in which we must operate, and we must improve the outcomes for people experiencing mental illnesses.
** Having a core group of police officers who choose to receive supplemental training and are dispatched to all 911 calls related to people with mental illness, is a valuable step in the right direction.
** The ability for PPB officers and qualified mental health professionals to work together on crisis prevention for folks who our officers interact with frequently will help connect those who need mental health services with treatment.
** And careful, principled collaboration sharing information about individuals who police officers come into contact with will help us and our partners more effectively care for the most vulnerable people in our community.
I am particularly hopeful that we can begin implementing many of the changes called for in our crisis and community mental health systems through partnership with the regional Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) and MultnomahCounty immediately. We have a unique opportunity to truly fix our system and provide coordinated care.
In the agreement, the Department of Justice states its expectation that the regional CCOs will establish, by mid-2013, one or more drop-off centers for first responders and public walk-in centers for individuals with addictions and/or behavioral health service needs.
The City will work closely with crisis and community mental health providers to pursue the establishment of these services. We will also focus on how hospital emergency departments, community clinics or urgent care facilities admit highly acute individuals and focus care plans on appropriate discharge and community based treatment options.
The agreement notes, the City will participate on the mental health and addictions workgroups of the CCOs as well as review County Requests For Proposals for contracts for these services, to pursue the following improvements to the system:
** Increased sharing of information between agencies and organizations including the Bureau of Emergency Communications, Multnomah County, and health care providers to share information among first responders and providers to better serve people experiencing mental illness;
** The creation of rapid-access clinics so people in crisis have access to timely appointments for treatment and medications;
** Enhancing access to primary care providers for low-acuity patients, creating more capacity for acute patients in existing outpatient crisis mental health systems;
Pursuing the expansion of options and available capacity for 9-1-1 Operators to appropriately divert calls to qualified civilian mental health providers as first responders;
We have already initiated changes, and more will be forthcoming. Last month, we set up a new number for people to call when feeling suicidal, or their loved ones to call. That number is 503-97-23456. It goes to Lines for Life, formerly Oregon Partnership, where mental health care professionals and highly trained volunteers provide support over the phone. Last year, Lines for Life handled 19,000 crisis calls, and 98% of them were resolved on the phone with no need to dispatch anyone.
** Expanding and strengthening networks of Peer-provided services, such as NAMI Northstar and Folktime; and
** Addressing other unmet needs indentified by Safer PDX and its community partners.
I will continue to work to support the implementation of these provisions of the agreement. I believe they will help strengthen our system of care. I will also engage with the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the Office of Equity and Human Rights in community oversight processes. The ongoing work must be transparent and accountable to everyone in the community.