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Officials say more support needed for mental health
POULSBO — When Poulsbo Police are called to the scene of an attempted suicide, or a domestic situation, or any other mental health crisis, “we’re putting on the Band-Aid at that point,” Poulsbo Officer David Shurick said.
“We’re not trained to help them get better, to give them medication,” Shurick said.
Law enforcement officers are just one part of the equation when a mental health crisis arises, but they often deal with the most dangerous part. Shurick said it’s the followup — a bed at Harrison Medical Center, the right medication, and a referral to a counselor — that needs more resources.
“Under the current way things are handled, we may respond to a person two dozen times, who is obviously suffering distress [and] needs long-term help,” Poulsbo Police Chief Al Townsend said. “There’s nothing in place currently that solves that problem. We may take [the distressed person] down to the hospital, have them evaluated, set up with counseling date, then they’re released. Then they don’t show up for counseling. It’s a repeat of the cycle of events.”
Shurick is working with Kitsap Mental Health on a countywide behavioral health plan, which is presenting an initiative to the county Board of Commissioners to increase the sales tax to start a fund for this plan.
Joe Roszak, executive director of Kitsap Mental Health, said the funding scope is extensive — schools, hospitals and clinics, law enforcement, court systems, and housing authorities would be able to apply for these grants. A citizen advisory board would review the applications and make recommendations to the commissioners. The fund would not be a part of the KMH budget, but overseen by the county Department of Human Services.
The initiative calls for an increase of 1/10th of 1 percent in county sales tax, or one penny for every $10. Roszak said they expect to be able to raise about $3 million annually from this initiative, which 20 other counties in the state have enacted.
The funding is needed. Kitsap Mental Health has 15 beds for involuntarily detained adults, and 10 beds for short-term treatment of children.
Shurick has been a police officer for 14 years. Since his initial hostage training in 2006, he is Poulsbo’s point man for hostage negotiation and mental health crises.
Shurick first became immersed in mental health crisis training in 2007, when he was called to the scene of a person threatening to jump from the Agate Pass Bridge in 2007.
He had received hostage negotiation training by the FBI the year before.
“All this training from the FBI, and then you find out this guy’s just looking to jump … [The jumper thinking] ‘I got nothing to say to you, these voices are telling me not to talk to you,’” Shurick said.
That incident was the catalyst for Shurick, he said. He became interested in the science behind mental illnesses, reading up on them.
“It was frustrating. I didn’t know was much as I wanted to know on scene,” he said. Now, after years of experience, Shurick develops a rapport with the person in crisis, finds out if they are on medication and gets on the phone to Kitsap Mental Health for follow up.
In 2008, Poulsbo and Kitsap Mental Health received funding for crisis intervention team training, for countywide law enforcement. The 40-hour training was held twice before funding ran out.
In 2011, Shurick then organized an annual Mental Health Awareness Day in Poulsbo, which trains law enforcement, and also invites educators and the general public to hear what law enforcement does and share ideas.
Shurick said 4 percent of U.S. adults have a severe mental illness. In his 14 years as a police officer, he has seen an increase in PTSD in returning military.
Leaving the scene of an incident doesn’t mean leaving the person behind for Shurick and officers like him. Shurick has many examples of people he’s responded to at their worst, where he followed up in more stable times to talk. Shurick said he doesn’t mind getting personal — he’ll often use his own life experience to connect with the person in distress.
“An ounce of prevention can really help,” Shurick said.
Shurick said one of the things he’d like to see with the behavioral health funding is an adult mental health court. After responding to the same person over and over again, he’ll often ask himself where in the safety net is this person falling through?
“Jail is the new mental institution,” he said. “There’s not a lot of other places for them.”
Townsend would like a more secure support structure for those who need medication or counseling. Mental health court is needed, but so are beds and counseling follow up for patients.
Shurick is also a part of the county’s Crisis Negotiation Team, run by Detective Sgt. Eric Bockelie of the Sheriff’s Office. Officers from the county, Poulsbo, Bainbridge and local NCIS are on the team.
The CNT is deployed when there is a hostage situation, whether mental illness is involved or not, but team members do have mental health crisis training.
Bockelie said it is critical for all first responders, including firefighters and paramedics, to have mental health training.
“A lot of the cliental we end up dealing with have mental health issues,” Bockelie said. “I don’t think you can get enough training in that area.”
The training includes an important aspect of how law enforcement should respond to these crisis situations — the family’s perspective. Shurick said he makes sure officers hear from parents with children with mental illness issues.
The family tells police, “’This is what I want to see when you come to my door.’ You cant get better than that,” Shurick said. He saidDuring a crisis, Shurick said, the family is often mad, frustrated.
“The sad thing is I’m mad with them, and then we’re mad at each other. They’re wondering why we’re not fixing this.”
For more information about the behavioral health plan and the funding initiative, attend a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.
— Bainbridge Island City Hall, 280 Madison Avenue N. Aug. 15, 6:30-8 p.m.
— Silverdale Community Center, 9729 Silverdale Way NW. Aug. 19, 6:30-8 p.m.
— County Commission Chambers, 619 Division St., Port Orchard, Aug. 28, 6:30-8 p.m. BKAT will record this session for future airing.
For more information, contact Susanne at (360) 692-3571.