Daily Camera (Boulder)

Co-response study finds more mental health resources are needed; officials seek funding

- By Annie Mehl Staff Writer

In the past several years, co-response teams throughout Boulder County have grown as programs secured more funding and communitie­s noticed the growing benefits of having mental health providers working with law enforcemen­t.

As the work of clinicians paired with police officers and sometimes paramedics, who respond to behavior-health related calls, continues, Longmont decided to dig a little deeper and study exactly how and how much co-response teams benefit the city.

“We are an innovative and progressiv­e agency, so it is nice to be able to have this happen,” said Sgt. Andy Feaster with Longmont’s Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement. “It’s a novel kind of new idea. It will help us find areas of inefficien­cy and where we have some shortfalls.”

About two years ago,

Feaster reached out to Amber Mcdonald to see whether she would be interested in working as the clinical supervisor for Longmont’s CORE team. Mcdonald previously worked as a social worker in the city and her husband is a Longmont police officer, she said. She also works for University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus.

After accepting the role, she decided to conduct research to see whether and how the CORE team is benefiting Longmont and what more can be done to aid residents.

“My research is a pilot research to be able to evaluate Longmont’s (CORE) team,” Mcdonald said. “It is really hard to fund evaluation, but we don’t know if (co-response) works. The importance of evaluation is to make sure that our innovative programs work.”

Mcdonald was awarded a $20,000 grant to study

Longmont's CORE team, she said. She and a research assistant began studying the team in May and will complete their work in April when the funding runs out.

As part of the program, Mcdonald has been interviewi­ng people who have been helped in some way by the CORE team. She has interviewe­d about eight people so far, she said.

Michelle Larkin, a Longmont resident, was one of the participan­ts Mcdonald interviewe­d for the study.

“The CORE team helped me when I was in trouble, and they were liaisons with the Longmont police,” Larkin said. “I felt comfort in what they were doing in conjunctio­n with the police.”

Larkin said Omar-fara Norgaisse, a paramedic with the CORE team, has helped her on several occasions.

“(Norgaisse) had just this effect on me that I could trust in him, and I ended up having to go to a program in which he accompanie­d one of the officers to the program and escorted me there and made numerous phone calls once I was there to check on me and see if I needed anything,” she said.

Larkin said she thinks having a co-response team in Longmont is wonderful because of how comfortabl­e they make a person feel as well as care for that person.

“I was amazed with the follow-up and that they truly care for my best interest, and I really wouldn't be where I am today without Omar,” she said. “He really persisted. It is totally worth it.”

Wendy Schwartz, human services policy manager for Boulder, said the city hopes to know in the next month or two whether it will receive a grant to pay for Mcdonald or someone else to study its co-response team known as the Crisis Interventi­on Response Team.

“I think we are in a stage locally and nationally where a lot of communitie­s are implementi­ng these types of interventi­ons,” she said. “It is a really important field to have research on because we all want to know what works well and what could use some adjustment or improvemen­t. It is to our benefit locally and everyone's benefit nationally to have more research.”

So far, she has been compiling really good data, Mcdonald said.

“One of the things that isn't shocking to me is that co-response isn't sufficient for addressing chronic mental health needs, but it's a great start,” she said. “Our prisons are now essentiall­y our state mental health hospitals. We need intensive outpatient care.”

After Mcdonald wraps up her study in Longmont, she hopes to begin research for other agencies to evaluate the benefits the programs are having and what else is needed to address mental health needs of the area, she said.

“My hope is to find a donor or two who would sponsor research,” she said. “(We need) folks to stand up and contribute to research on a broader level to see how these programs are making the impact we want.”

To help support research on co-responder teams, contact Mcdonald at Amber.mcdonald@cuanschutz.edu.

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