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Missoula mobile crisis team gearing up for 10-month pilot program

Downtown Missoula
Posted at 12:58 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 14:58:36-04

MISSOULA — The Missoula Justice Coordinating Council provided members of the City Council a picture of the developing mobile crisis team on Wednesday, just days before a provider is selected.

During the 10-month pilot program, the team will address 911 calls deemed to involve a mental health issue in a 20-mile proximity of downtown Missoula.

Setting such parameters was a hard decision to make, said Kristen Jordan, manager of the Criminal Justice Services Division.

“If we get a call from someplace very far away, and another place locally, it’s hard to figure out how to prioritize that,” Jordan said. “So right now, we are going to stay closer to our Central Business District, but we are going to collect the calls we got outside of that CBD to better inform a program for next time.”

The pilot program will collect as much data as possible over the first 10 months to determine where and how it may evolve. Part of the data will reveal whether they need a 24/7 active mobile crisis team.

According to Jordan, existing data shows there not being a need for a 24/7 service, but as they “tailor it to the community’s needs” based on what the local data reveals, that could change when they make the permanent budget request to the city and county in the spring.

Both the city and county are contributing to the pilot program.

“If we need to beef up the mobile crisis team in ten months’ time, we’re going to have the data to show it,” she said.

Initially, they’ll organize two teams of three who will work 80 hours a week combined. Their hours will follow trends in calls with people expected to work evenings and weekends.

Jordan said there would be immediate benefits to the mobile crisis team, including a reduced need for incarceration. It costs Missoula taxpayers $115 per defendant per night in jail. By intervening, the crisis team could save $3 to $7 spent elsewhere and offer better crisis care in immediate situations.

However, the mobile crisis team could face problems with the lack of available residential centers addressing mental health in Missoula. Missoula has the largest number of admissions to the Montana State Hospital by almost three times, council member Bryan von Lossberg noted.

“We need a Dakota House (a Missoula-based crisis residential center) times 50. If the crisis can’t be resolved, we don’t want to take them to jail and we don’t want to take them to the hospital. They just need to go to someplace for observation. We are going to fall short in that space,” Jordan said.

“We’re going to be collecting data to hopefully find how many times we weren’t able to take someone to a Dakota House because it was full or for some other reason.”

While the team will not do a long-term observation, it will provide follow-up in the days and weeks after a crisis to ensure it still has access to the services offered by the team.

“It’s not just when you call 911 that you will get assistance from the mobile crisis unit, you’re actually going to get assistance from paid staff who are part of this team afterwards,” Jordan said.

The Mobile Crisis team will also be dispatched to the Poverello Center.

Jordan said the homeless shelter has faced issues before, but the center hasn’t wanted to press charges on the issues creating a conflict with law enforcement who receive 911 calls there.

This will allow response to mental crises without jailing anyone.

“There’s a lot of different uses for mobile crisis outside of just 911 calls,” Jordan said.