Columbia River Mental Health Services has launched a Mobile Night Crisis team to provide direct mental health counseling and treatment to vulnerable individuals and relieve law enforcement and emergency service personnel from the need to respond to mental health and substance use crises overnight.
The service launched May 15. The team — comprised of three crisis support specialists who are trained in crisis intervention, de-escalation and risk assessment — operates out of the Battle Ground Police Department from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., seven days a week.
The team responds to calls made to the Crisis Connections hotline and, using a sophisticated mobile health van, travels to people where they are.
The service is an expansion of Columbia River Mental Health Services’ daytime response Mobile Health unit, a team of trained and certified medical, mental health, peer and substance use disorder specialists who began offering services to homeless individuals staying at encampments in October 2021. The Mobile Health unit currently provides services Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. with the goal of expanding to seven days a week.
With the addition of the Mobile Night Crisis team, mobile response services to Clark County individuals are now available 24/7.
SeaMar’s Adult Mobile Crisis Intervention operates from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week, and Columbia River Mental Health Services worked with SeaMar to create a two-hour safe harbor window between 10 p.m. and midnight, as that tends to be high call time, and ensures crises during the transition hours are attended to.
“Columbia River was looking at joining forces with the already existing adult mobile crisis services, and existing mobile crisis services were working their schedule from 8 in the morning until midnight,” said Mobile Night Crisis team supervisor Dawn Tec Yah. “There was a gap in the middle of the night, and our plan was to bridge that gap.”
The Mobile Night Crisis team is designed to divert hundreds of calls for help annually from first responders. Preventable hospitalizations will also be reduced as individuals’ needs are met where they are by members of the mobile unit, Tec Yah said.
“Inadequate access to health care is a major factor for these preventable trips, particularly for vulnerable populations,” she said. “Residents facing a mental health crisis at night often have few options for intervention and end up in the emergency room or police station for non-life-threatening conditions. This is a worsening problem in Clark County and throughout the nation where communities are experiencing unprecedented rates of homelessness and a deepening opioid crisis.”
The service also aims to increase referrals to behavioral health services for unsheltered individuals or individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis.
“What happens is someone who is in crisis will call the crisis line, and we get dispatched out through that,” Tec Yah said. “Then we show up in our van and we have some specific de-escalation skills that we utilize, as well as safety planning. And then we have case managers in the morning that will follow up and make sure that everybody’s safe.”
The mobile health van is loaded with first-aid kits, clothes, snacks, drinks and more.
“Our daytime Mobile Health Unit carries a lot more in their van because they’re doing more outreach with the homeless,” Tec Yah said. “Our team is more focused on de-escalating, safety planning, and then helping that person move forward the next day, so we carry less supplies.”
Only in its second week of operation, the team has already responded to calls across Clark County, from Woodland to Vancouver.
“We haven’t gotten anything out east yet, but we plan on eventually heading that way, too,” Tec Yah said.
For now, the team is focused on settling into a routine and establishing itself in the community.
“It’s essential to introduce people in Clark County to resources that they may not know are available,” said Crisis Support Specialist Bryan Rippentrop. “That has been a focal point for us.”
“It’s much better to have us out there then having somebody relive a trauma with law enforcement,” said Crisis Support Specialist Garrett Souder. “We’ve already done a lot of good out there, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
Before expanding the Mobile Health teams any further, Tec Yah said she’s focused on perfecting the service’s model.
“We’ve started all these programs, and now we’ve got to stabilize them,” she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, you can reach the mobile teams in Clark County by calling the 24/7 Crisis Connections line at 800-626-8137.