Tulsa has one of the highest rates of mental illness and suicide in the nation. Despite the enormity of the problem, state funding for public mental health continues to decline, resulting in an under-resourced early intervention and treatment system. Consequently, highly treatable issues spiral into crisis, overwhelming first responders with emergency calls.
Part of Tulsa’s solution is the advancement of a program to continue the Community Response Team (CRT). An integral part of Tulsa’s Community Policing program, CRT is an innovative, first responder collaboration project between the Mental Health Association OK (MHAO), Tulsa Police Department (TPD), Tulsa Fire Department (TFD), Family & Children’s Services’ (F&CS) and Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services (COPES). The Tulsa Area United Way provided $106,011 in special community collaboration funding that allows the CRT respond to calls two days each week.
Mayor G.T. Bynum said, “Community Response Teams are a great example of our approach to problem solving: breaking down the old parochial silos and bringing together the best experts in our community to address a specific need. I am thankful for the United Way’s strong support of this innovative program and am eager for us to serve even more Tulsans in need over the year ahead.”
The new CRT model, piloted last August with much success, optimizes time and resources by integrating COPES mental health professionals into a team of traditional first responders – TPD officer and TFD paramedic. During the pilot, over 90 of the City’s first responders were released from the scene of mental health-related calls to which the CRT responded, keeping those personnel in service and available to respond to other emergency calls.
The United Way’s community collaborations programs encourage cooperation among partners to meet specific community challenges. Last year, 13,000 9-1-1 calls were mental health crisis calls. These calls place excessive demands on the TPD, diverting officers from other crime-related calls.
Family & Children’s Services CEO Gail Lapidus said, “Collaborating is the bedrock of the CRT model with each member bringing different specializations, training and expertise to the team. When combined, these capabilities bring value-added services to individuals in crisis and to fellow CRT members.”