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Mental health crisis center aims to divert people from jail, emergency room – TWC News

“It’s just like a storm can knock a house off its foundation, a crisis can knock someone off their feet.”

Laura Slocum shared a fitting description of how a mental crisis can derail someones life. When it goes critical, law enforcement officers can find themselves on the front lines.

“When it comes to the critical incidents that our officers get involved in, with officer-involved shootings or having to use serious force on somebody, in the majority of those cases these people are experiencing a mental health crisis,” explained Austin Police Department’s Assistant Chief Joseph Chacon.

While they have some tools and training, it’s often not enough.

“The only thing that we were able to do, really, is to take them to jail. And then, we began diverting them to the hospital and, to some degree, we’re able to take them to (the Austin State Hospital), Chacon said. It really was a process.”

It caused more stress than peace of mind.

“They’re already having a hard enough time,” said Chacon.

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Hoping to change the status quo, the Judge Guy Herman Center for Mental Health Crisis Care opened its doors on Tuesday. It has 16 beds and is open and fully-staffed 24 hours, seven days a week. But it’s not a walk-in facility; patients will have to be taken in by law enforcement or referred through Integral Care.

“It’s a higher level of care that is provided in a non-hospital setting with the goal of stabilizing the crisis for the person as quickly as possible,” Slocum said.

Mental health experts say most crises can be resolved within 48 hours. The new facility offers crisis assessment, nursing services and therapy.

“This is a different kind of setting that we can take them where they just feel better, they feel more secure,” Chacon said.

The Herman Center was modeled after similar programs in Lufkin and El Paso. They expect to serve up to 1,500 patients by next year.

Travis Count also has other mental health resources for residents. A full list can be found at the NAMI Austin website.

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Mental health crisis center aims to divert people from jail, emergency room – TWC News