ITHACA, N.Y. — For 16 hours a day, people experiencing a mental health crisis in Tompkins County have few options for treatment. Most likely, a person’s mental health situation will involve police intervention or hospitalization.

But things are about to change.

Tuesday night, the Tompkins County legislature unanimously approved the creation of 24-hour Behavioral Health Mobile Crisis Team, which will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  The crisis team will be managed by the Tompkins County Mental Health Department.
This means that when people are concerned about the mental well-being of a person, they no longer have to call the police if the situation is not dangerous. Instead, the crisis team can be called to talk to a person experiencing mental health issues face-to-face. This includes incidents sparked by drug or alcohol use.
Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said the health department currently has an emergency outreach team available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“The goal here is to expand that, using our existing staff and creating an on-call procedure,” he said. “It’s something that we haven’t had here in Tompkins County.”
The Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service will likely become a point of contact for people needing to use the service, though the details of the collaboration haven’t been completely hashed out, yet.
Tompkins County 911 dispatchers will also play a major role for the new crisis team.
“I think that’s probably the first and most likely place we’re going to find these interactions,” Kruppa said.
Incidents will be ranked as low, medium and high, with high being considered an emergency situation where a person poses and immediate threat to themselves or others.
Kruppa said the assessment levels help provide a safety value to the team and the community. The responding team member will be able to determine if the police or an ambulance service need to be involved in a situation.
He said the team will not interfere with the health department’s current collaboration with the local law enforcement. Mental health officials, for instance, worked with the local Community Emergency Response Team during the nearly eight-hour police standoff with murder suspect Justin Barkley about two weeks ago. That partnership will continue, along with the creation of the Mobile Crisis Team.
Other partnerships include agencies throughout the county, such as the Advocacy Center, which could be called for assistance with cases involving domestic violence or sexual assault. Or Cornell University officials, who could be contacted to help with a student.
Legislator Martha Robertson, District 13, said, “It’s sort of a no wrong doors kind of approach.”
Kruppa said the Mobile Crisis Team is expected to be revenue neutral because it will use the health department’s current staff and resources. The revenue neutral model estimates that the team would receive an average of two calls per week — one from an insured person and one from an uninsured person.
Care Compass Network would help provide payment and medical coverage resources for uninsured people. The non-profit will also provide startup funds for the first two years of participation in the project.
The Mobile Crisis Team is expected to officially roll out in March.
Featured photo: The Tompkins County legislature unanimously voted in favor of a Mobile Crisis Team after Public Health Director Frank Kruppa presented the details of the plan Tuesday night. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/ The Ithaca Voice