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Web-Based Solution Gives Cops Options for People With Mental Illnesses

EMResource is a web-based tool that gives first responders a way to locate a hospital bed or treatment facility for mentally ill patients instead of transporting them to the emergency room, where they might sit for hours.

Police and health officials in Texas are using a web-based tool to collaborate and ensure that when police are confronted with someone needing mental health resources, the police will have the tools to locate the appropriate care in minutes instead of days or weeks.

Whether it’s a hospital bed or a rehab facility, police can now locate the information they need to help them make a quick decision on how to handle someone needing mental health assistance instead of taking that person to the emergency room or to jail.

EMResource is a web-based tool, offered by Juvare, used in 30 states that helps optimize communication and share health-related data between health-care facilities, public health agencies, emergency management and first responders. In some places, including Colorado and San Antonio, Texas, that information now includes mental health data.

Typically, when a person is having a mental health crisis and a police officer is called to the scene, the officer will often perform an emergency detention of the person. Often because of a lack of insight and a lack of communication, the officer will transport the patient to the closest emergency department. Surveys have shown that in San Antonio the overutilization of emergency services costs the community an estimated $1 billion annually.

The Southwest Texas Crisis Collaborative was formed in 2017 to integrate a crisis management system across payers, hospital and behavioral health providers, fire/EMS and law enforcement to address this issue. What resulted was the collaborative using EMResource, along with WebEOC, to help first responders quickly place mental health patients where they need to be.

The solution also helps jurisdictions like San Antonio find available beds in mental health facilities.

“What we’re starting to see is we do have a mental health bed shortage in this country,” said Dave Wojs, senior director of public health and health care at Juvare. That shortage often leads to patients having to be shipped off to another jurisdiction that has the required resources available.

States are now allowing additional queries on tracking capabilities specifically aimed at mental health resources. “So, what that is doing is allowing for rapid placement, if you will. So instead of, say, a patrol officer calling to see who could or could not take a certain patient, delaying their care, we can now use EMResource to place that person,” Wojs said.

In San Antonio alone, police brought an estimated 750 psychiatric patients to emergency departments each month in 2013. Those patients stayed, on average, about nine hours, while nonmental health patients stayed three to six hours. During the time it takes to locate a bed or other resources for the mental health patient, the patient is not receiving the care needed because emergency rooms aren’t equipped to assist this type of patient.

The EMResource solution removes the emergency room situation from the equation by giving the first responder more intelligence to make an informed decision on where to place the patient.

“I used to be in EMS, and what we would see is that it depended on the urgency of the patient,” said Bryan Kaplan, Juvare CIO. “If you had somebody who was combative, the police would usually end up calling various hospitals to see if they could take a patient. They might get lucky, and they might not.”

In Texas, the officer radios into dispatch and the dispatcher will locate a bed or resource facility for the subject. In Colorado, officers have direct access to locating those resources without going through dispatch.

“In the long run, it’s the same result, they find the proper placement and resource availability,” Kaplan said.