MONTPELIER — The work of the emergency services in the Capital City to address mental health issues in crisis situations has been highlighted as part of a model being replicated in other rural regions nationwide.
Team Two Vermont is a rural model for mental health crisis intervention that began in 2013 and has involved 35 law enforcement agencies and associated mental health services around Vermont.
The model has been so successful that program founder Kristin Chandler and emergency services and mental health workers are traveling to other parts of the nation to share their skills with their counterparts.
The effectiveness of the program in Montpelier was highlighted in the latest newsletter from Team Two Vermont.
The newsletter noted an incident in Montpelier in March when police were summoned to reports of a man who “fell on a knife in an attempt to harm himself.”
The report went on to note that first responders and a screener from Washington County Mental Health Services went to an apartment on Barre Street where they found a 32-year-old man standing in a doorway holding a knife, with blood all over his chest.
Police officers and the screener spent more than 30 minutes trying to calm the man and de-escalate the conflict.
As a back-up, police officers also called for additional non-lethal resources, which included a ballistic shield for protection and a pepperball launcher and a modified shotgun loaded with special bean-bag rounds.
According to the police report, the man began sawing at his neck with the knife, which already had other wounds.
When the man advanced with the knife on officers, he was shot in the abdomen with a bean-bag round, which halted his advance.
He was taken to hospital for treatment of his wounds. No criminal charges were filed as a result of the incident because of that mental health crisis response.
Cpl. Matt Knisley and Sgt. Jeff Pearson are Team Two instructors with the Montpelier Police Department. All officers undergo a minimum of state-mandated eight hours training in dealing with mental health crises.
Neither was available for interview, but Capt. Neil Martel, who has been trained and was present at the March incident involving the man with the knife, said the training was invaluable for all officers.
“Team Two is kind of the next step which talks about how police and mental health (screeners) can work together, hence the Team Two name, to respond to these kinds of crises, events, incidents,” Martel said. “A lot of the origins began in Washington County with the partnership with Washington County Mental Health Services.
“We were fortunate that we had Washington County Mental Health Services here,” Martel said, noting that other counties, such as Chittenden County, law enforcement works closely with Howard Center Mental Health Services in similar dual task force roles.
“A lot of what we do kind of became the model for Team Two in many ways. Central Vermont police would reach out the Washington County Mental Health and say, ‘We’re dealing with X,Y or whatever, can you assist us?’” Martel added.
Program founder Kristen Chandler said the program model has been refined and expanded to five regional county programs in the state: Washington and Orange; Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin; Windham and Windsor; Addison, Rutland and Bennington; and Caledonia, Essex, Lamoille and Orleans.
Funding for the program, overseen by Vermont Care Partners, comes from the state health and mental health departments.
Team Two Vermont teams consist of dispatchers, police officers, EMTs, mental health crisis workers, state’s attorneys and emergency department personnel.
Chandler organizes the teams and training and acts as a facilitator at each of the trainings. She conducts a training in each region in the state, and also attends conferences.
Chandler said the only other comparable course available is the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training in large metropolitan cities, which is a program that is too long for small, rural police departments and emergency services that can’t afford to have an employee away for that long. The eight-hour Team Two program was developed to make the training needed more accessible.
Chandler said she tries to develop trainings that reflect a range of possible crisis situations, such as incidents involving children, veterans, people with suicidal tendencies, people with disabilities or dual-diagnosis issues, people with substance-abuse problems, people on the autism spectrum, the elderly with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and frequent “repeat crisis callers” seeking help.
“We try to talk about the legal aspects, clinical aspects and the safety aspects,” Chandler said. “We focus on collaborative response but it’s building the relationships between those first responders, which is why we do it regionally.
“They may have talked on the phone before but sometimes they’re meeting for the first time at the trainings. They’re also learning each other’s languages, each other’s strengths, their limitations,” she added.
Chandler said the Vermont State Police had identified Team Two Vermont as “a priority” for its troopers.
“They’re making a real effort to send all of their troopers to trainings,” Chandler said. “They’ve added on to their mental health training for their cadets at the police academy.”
Chandler said she already teaches the Act 80 state-mandated mental health crisis training for police officers in Vermont.
“They asked me to come back to do a two-hour program just for Vermont State Troopers,” Chandler said. “The 11 cadets who were there, brand new troopers, said, ‘We’d like to do more of this.’ The State Police found more time for me to go back and do some role-plays with them.
“There’s such a huge majority of their calls that involve a mental health component, so it’s really nice to see that they’re responding that way,” she added.
Chandler will be traveling to present at the National Association of Rural Mental Health conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this month and to the RADAR symposium in Seattle in September.
In October, she will travel with Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos and Washington County Mental Health Services CEO Mary Moulton to present at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference.