Alaska Behavioral Health starts Mobile Outreach for Children and Families

Interior Alaska has, since October 2021, seen the implementation of a new method of responding to mental health situations, known as Crisis Now.
Published: Jun. 15, 2023 at 9:12 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Interior Alaska has, since October 2021, seen the implementation of a new method of responding to mental health situations, known as Crisis Now.

“We have, I think, changed the landscape pretty significantly,” said Timothy Ledna, Team Lead for Mobile Outreach for Children and Families. The new system involves certain types of situations, including “when someone calls 9-1-1 because their loved one is suicidal or someone calls 9-1-1 because there’s someone at their business who’s talking to themselves and just really seems off.”

Practiced around the country, it involves sending mental health professionals when 9-1-1 is called. Ledna explained, “The 9-1-1 dispatchers are trained to screen and triage over the phone and make a determination as to whether they should send out the Mobile Crisis Team. "

Depending on the severity of the incident, dispatch could, instead of police, send a Mobile Crisis Team, which includes a clinician and a peer-support specialist. “Oftentimes, we know that when folks are in crisis and we can intervene and stabilize in the crisis situations, that may help negate the need for those higher levels of care like hospitalization, law enforcement detention,” he said.

This kind of help, according to Ledna, is designed to take the burden off of police officers and to de-escalate a situation where the presence of law enforcement may add to the stress. “They will be the first to admit they’re not mental health professionals, and they very much don’t want to have to be called to help someone who is suicidal.”

However, not all crises can be handled without police. “We do come across difficult, challenging situations, and sometimes dangerous situations, the Mobile Crisis Team. We’re responding to folks who, sometimes, they want to end their lives and there’s guns involved,” Ledna said.

Fairbanks began to test the Crisis Now model on its streets in October of 2021.

The Mobile Crisis Team began by going out on calls for part of the day, accompanied by law enforcement or Emergency Medical Services.

Now the system is up and running. Ledna, who works with Mobile Crisis Teams, said, “We’ve been running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

“We’ve done really well to help give the community the right response at the right time for the right level of care,” he added.

Now, Alaska Behavioral Health is expanding its scope in Fairbanks to include Mobile Outreach for Children and Families.

Housed in a facility near the Aurora neighborhood of Fairbanks, this new program hopes to change the way family crises involving mental health are managed in the Golden Heart City. “Lots of times youth have behaviors that end them up in the hospital, or right away the recommendation is residential treatment,” continued Ledna.

Mobile Outreach for Children and Families aims to end that cycle.

It currently operates between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. seven days a week. During that time, families in crisis can call the program instead of 9-1-1. “Anyone can call with less intimidation, less barriers to access,” according to Ledna.

A clinician and/or Peer Support Specialist would then be dispatched to the situation if needed, “most of the time going out to families in their homes, at school, at the playground, wherever the situation might be happening,” he explained.

Unlike the ongoing Mobile Crisis Team, which responds to all age groups, this program is geared specifically to youth and their families. About the responders in the program, Ledna said, “Those helping professionals are using warmth and empathy.”

Calls can be made when a child’s behavior is troubling or problematic, but a parent might not want to get the authorities involved or take further action. Ledna stated, “Our goal is to help limit the need to hospitalize youth, to take youth from their homes and place them in foster care or other places that would be out-of-home care, unnecessary law enforcement involvement.”

Funding for the program comes from the State of Alaska Division of Behavioral Health.

While working on an outreach team can be a difficult job, those involved often times find the work to be rewarding, including Peer Support Specialist Jaye Palmer. “I love helping people. I love offering that help, and I’ve got a special passion for youth in particular. I like working with at-risk youth and making a difference in their lives,” Palmer said.

Those looking to reach Mobile Outreach for Children and Families can call 907-371-1359.

The all-ages Mobile Crisis Team can be reached by calling 9-1-1.