WellStone to launch mobile mental health crisis response team in Cullman County

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Left to right are Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman; Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview; and Chris Van Dyke, COO of WellStone Inc. (Cullman Tribune file photos)

CULLMAN, Ala. – WellStone, provider of mental health services to Cullman and Madison Counties, sent notification to The Tribune on Monday that “a Mobile Crisis Team will officially be added to WellStone Cullman’s program list. An initiative led by Senator Garlan Gudger, the two-person team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to respond to Cullman County residents in a mental health or substance use crisis. The team primarily focuses on individuals 18 and over who experience a behavioral health crisis in Cullman County. The goal of this new resource is to assess needs, then resolve the immediate crisis through direct intervention or find the best fit resources to successfully resolve the crisis.”

According to Wellstone’s release, “The team responds to crisis where it happens, which can often reduce or avoid emergency room utilization or arrests. Then, the team can identify where the individual needs to go next; whether that is outpatient treatment or another community-based service.” 

Wellstone Chief Operational Officer Chris Van Dyke talked to The Tribune Monday afternoon about the Mobile Crisis Team:

“It’s a two-person team on each shift- that is 24/7- and they will be responding to crisis in the community as dispatched by either our staff, or we want them to respond to law enforcement- to certain situations, not every situation, but certain situations. When people are leaving the ER, the Mobile Crisis Team can go home with them, make sure their home environment’s settled, for example, if someone was suicidal, they could go home with them and make sure everything was going to be settled. They could come back the next day, pick them up and bring them in to their appointment here.

“The whole idea is to follow the crisis from that first call until it’s handed off to the provider who’s going to really treat them, and making sure we’re following those cases through that period, whether that’s two hours or three days.”

Van Dyke shared the goals of the program, which include:

  • Decrease the suicide rate
  • Decrease recidivism of mental health cases at emergency rooms
  • Decrease recidivism of mental health cases requiring law enforcement intervention

 

The Mobile Crisis Team project is a state-funded pilot program currently offered in only five counties, though WellStone staffers hope that theirs might become a pattern for similar programs statewide.

When will it start?

Van Dyke said, “We are hiring now, so as soon as we can fill the positions, we’ll be starting. We are looking for master’s level clinicians, preferably licensed, but they don’t have to be licensed. The second member is either a peer, someone with a lived experience with mental illness or addiction, who’s willing to be certified as a certified peer specialist, or a bachelor’s level case manager, someone with a bachelor’s degree in a human services field. We can get them trained and certified as a case manager.”

Job descriptions and application information are available on WellStone’s website www.wellstone.com and www.indeed.com

Legislative support a key ingredient

The project came to Cullman County because of efforts led by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman with support in the Alabama House of Representatives from Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview, Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle and others.

According to the WellStone release, “A significant amount of the development success is the initiative of Senator Garlan Gudger. Mental health is a platform that he has ran on since his days in Cullman’s City Council, and he continues to prove that he will not stop being an advocate at the state level for funding mental health.  Senate members along with Gudger, like Senator Steve Livingston and Senator Greg Albritton are collaborating to champion this cause in the Senate.

“In the House, the mental health cause was championed by majority leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, which created a task force for the State. Members of the task force included Livingston, Albritton and Cullman’s Representative Randall Shedd and Representative Scott Stadthagen, who carried legislation for the House.  

“Last year, Representative Shedd and Senator Gudger won the ‘Legislators of the Year’ award for the House and for the Senate from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Alabama. Having a local delegation that sees mental health as a priority is substantial, especially when representing Cullman County at a state level.

“When asked about the funding Gudger stated, ‘I am just doing my job. There has been and continues to be an immediate need to keep mental health patients out of our jails and out of our hospitals that by not doing so, only wastes taxpayer’s dollars. Plus, the safety of all Cullman County citizens is a large concern to me, as I ran my campaign on that promise. Being able to provide extra funding for a Mobile Crisis Team that will be available 24/7 to accomplish those goals is a good start to giving our citizens, family members and friends a resource to use when needed.’”

Monday afternoon, Gudger told The Tribune, “I surveyed on social media the biggest concerns of my district before this year’s state legislative session. Mental health consistently stayed at the top of everyone’s priority. So this session I wanted to focus on funding for a program that helps us all though public safety and efficiently using our tax dollars wisely. 

“Mental health is a topic that affects us all. I said that I would be an advocate for the families, the patients, the citizens that are affected by dozens of Mental Health patients continuously going to the hospital ER and the county jail. This program, that I was able to get funded, will be the first mobile unit crisis team in the state to assist patients 24/7/365. This is just the start to our work as your local delegation to ensure the best for our citizens.”

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com