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Selected Nevada law enforcement agencies to pilot virtual mental health response program

A monochrome photo shows a woman sitting on a chair while looking at her phone. Her other hand is on her forehead.
Chloe Capture
Flickr Creative Commons

Some law enforcement agencies in Nevada are piloting a virtual response program for mental health emergencies.

Nevada lawmakers recently approved allocating grant funding to bring the Virtual Crisis Care program to 11 law enforcement agencies in the state. The Helmsley Charitable Trust is contributing more than $3 million to the initiative.

Soon, officers in seven counties, including Washoe, Carson City and Elko, will respond to calls carrying an iPad. They’ll use those to provide 24/7 access to behavioral health professionals via telehealth.

Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said the program is a game changer for rural counties located hours away from the nearest resources. He said it’ll also take the pressure off of officers who aren’t trained but are expected to triage behavioral health patients in the field.

“The mental health calls that we’re responding to just increase more and more and more,” Lee said. “We’re dealing with more and more in our jail – and these people don’t belong in jail. Do I think it’s going to solve all the problems? No, but I think it can help.”

Without leaving the scene, an officer can connect a person in crisis to providers for an initial evaluation virtually. Follow-up resources are also provided. The program was originally tested in South Dakota, where trust representatives said both police transport and callbacks decreased significantly.

The plan is to evaluate results from the seven counties, then expand the program throughout the state. Gov. Steve Sisolak said this is one way they’re attempting to bring quality care to all Nevadans.

“The pandemic showed us how important equitable and accessible health care is for everyone and that the Virtual Crisis Care program will help us in that mission in a new and innovative way,” he said.

Officer training on Virtual Crisis Care is underway now, with sessions continuing through July.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Lucretia Cunningham is a former contributing reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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