Virtual Crisis Care provides mental health assistance for officers

PIERRE, S.D. (DRG News) – A conversation that started four years ago about the need for law enforcement and court services officers in South Dakota to have access to mental health expertise in the midst of a crisis has become reality thanks to $1 million in funding from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Helmsley Trustee Walter Panzirer says after being tested in four counties, the Virtual Crisis Care pilot program allows mental health professionals to assist officers in the 23 participating counties in their ability to de-escalate, assess and stabilize people in a crisis and arrange for follow-up care with local community mental health centers.

Hughes and Minnehaha are currently the only counties in the state using a virtual mental health assistance type of program.

South Dakota Chief Justice David Gilbertson has championed efforts to use technology to better serve individuals with mental health issues. He says if this type of expertise is readily available, it could revolutionize the state’s criminal justice system.

Avera Clinical VP of Behavioral Health Services and Psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Stanley says across the U.S., there’s not only a growing shortage of psychiatric workforce, but also an increasing number of requests for services.

Central South Dakota counties with law enforcement, probation officers or both participating in the one-year Virtual Crisis Care pilot program are Lyman, Faulk, Walworth, Dewey, Ziebach, Corson, Campbell and McPherson.

The program partners the South Dakota Unified Judicial System, Avera eCARE and the Helmsley Charitable Trust in collaboration with the South Dakota Sheriffs’ Association and community mental health centers.

The program can be used for someone who is:

  • delusional, hallucinating or off medications,
  • making suicidal or homicidal statements or
  • unable to care for themselves.

It would not be used for those who are:

  • heavily intoxicated,
  • need medical attention,
  • are too violent or
  • are unwilling to participate.

The pilot program, which runs through June 2021, will work to prove effectiveness and efficiencies of the Virtual Crisis Care model with the goals of establishing funding and statewide program expansion.