ROGERS PARK — A program to pair those suffering a mental health crisis with counselors rather than police is up and running on the Far North Side.
Rogers Park-based Trilogy rolled out its mental health emergency responder program this month. The First-response Alternative Crisis Team, or FACT, is part of a statewide program providing alternatives to calling 911 for those experiencing mental health issues.
Trilogy’s team has set up its own crisis hotline people can call and request first responders trained in mental health services. The program responds to calls in Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown and West Ridge, as well as Evanston and Skokie.
Trilogy not only responds to mental health emergencies, but it also follows up with people who had to call emergency responders in the past and works with people to prevent such crises.
“The most important thing about our program … is to look at crisis as a continuum that has a beginning, the peak middle as well as follow up after,” said Chris Mayer, clinical director of crisis services at Trilogy. “We are engaging people along that entire continuum.”
The crisis response program can be reached at 800-FACT-400 (800-322-8400).
The first responder service is available 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. It will be scaled up to 7 a.m.- 7 p.m. daily, and then to 24/7 by the summer as Trilogy works to hire more mental health specialists.
Trilogy’s first responder model works much like calling 911.
When they get a call to the crisis line, a dispatcher determines if the situation is appropriate for mental health first responders, Mayer said.
If so, a team of two will respond to the scene to offer services and resources. The team then follows up with the person to make sure their needs are being met and offer more help if necessary. That can include peer support and other resources, Mayer said.
Some calls might not be deemed crises or emergencies, but Trilogy may still send a team to offer preventative services, Mayer said.
If the dispatcher suspects a call is medical emergency, they will call for paramedics. If the dispatcher believes there is the threat of violence — for example, if a weapon is nearby or if someone has already been hurt — they will call for police.
Even in those cases where 911 is needed, Trilogy will still send a team to the scene to help oversee the response, Mayer said.
“We’ll still go out and engage with the police or help coordinate” the response, he said.
The first responder program went live Jan. 10. So far, it has responded to 14 mental health emergencies in the area plus worked with more than a dozen referrals to their crisis services, according to Trilogy.
Trilogy’s first responder effort is borne out of a state program started last year to fund local mental health crisis teams throughout the state. Rogers Park’s state representative, Kelly Cassidy, was instrumental in getting the law passed.
Down the road, Trilogy will be incorporated into mental health crisis first responder model that will implement 988 as a nationwide suicide hotline and alternative to calling 911.
These programs come as officials seek to cut down on the number of people with mental health issues ending up incarcerated, in hospitals or other institutional settings, or being the victims of police violence.
Another first responder team under the new state effort has come online on the West Side. Chicago also rolled out its own pilot, the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement program, that pairs police officers with mental health professionals. The pilot is being tested in two areas: in Auburn Gresham and Chatham and in Lakeview, Uptown and North Center.
The Trilogy teams work with the pilot based in the 19th District, which includes Uptown. The police will refer people to Trilogy or have the Trilogy teams follow up, Mayer said.
Chicago police responded to more than 41,000 calls “with a mental health component” in 2019, according to documents the department provided in budget hearings last fall. The Fire Department responded to 27,000 mental health calls in 2019.
Offering these alternatives helps move mental health treatment away from a law enforcement model to one that is more focused on treatment and prevention, said Samantha Handley, Trilogy’s president and CEO.
“If someone ends up in jail or in hospitalization, they might not be able to pay their rent. Now their homeless,” Handley said. “The more that we can keep people in their own homes and [in] the community, the better off it is for the entire community.”
Mental health professionals and local leaders alike are hopeful this is just the start of a new approach to mental health services.
“This is a fantastic resource,” Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said in a town hall. “We’re going to see a lot of growth, long overdue growth, in services available for mental health crisis response. I’m grateful that Rogers Park is at least one of the first places that is going to receive these services.”
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