New study examines mental health resources available for Arizona’s first responders

A new report shows how Arizona police and firefighters successfully responded to mental health calls and how they can improve.
Published: Oct. 4, 2023 at 9:16 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A recent report by the Vitalyst Health Foundation shows new resources available for Arizona first responders when it comes to dealing with mental health issues. The Spark Report includes responses from hundreds of first responders and mental health experts across Arizona. “In the past, it was really bad,” Surprise Fire-Medical Department Deputy Chief Jesus Rivera said.

And Rivera isn’t referring to that long ago, just within the last decade. “Everybody would go to an emergency room. And so they would go there, many times they wouldn’t receive the care they needed because the emergency room doesn’t provide mental health care,” he said. “So then they would sign out against medical advice, call 911 and they’d want to go to another facility.” Rivera says Surprise Fire started their treat-and-refer training services for first responders in 2015, where Surprise Fire can directly transport patients to behavioral health facilities to get them the help they need.

The report says the city of Phoenix has transferred some people who have called 911 to the 988 suicide hotline number launched last year, and in some cases, to city mobile crisis teams. “It’s getting them sort of connected to the least restrictive service that they need,” Phoenix Police Crisis Intervention Team coordinator Sabrina Taylor said. “And helping them get better and stable.”

Taylor says Phoenix’s usage of mental health resources has been a model for other cities nationwide. But she says despite progress, there’s still a stigma associated with mental illness that impacts the resources available for first responders. “We’re always fighting the systemic problems that we have of health care coverage, health care access,” she said.

Taylor and Rivera both say the next step for Arizona first responders is making that transition to behavioral health treatment even quicker and more efficient. “We’re already doing it at every stage of the criminal justice process,” Taylor said. “But I think we can always keep refining it, making it faster, and increase the numbers.”

“Ensure that we all have the ability to provide people that are in a mental health crisis the appropriate resources,” Rivera added.

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