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Mental Health Triage Center To Open Soon

Three county officials seated at a table in the county government complex.
Charlie Schlenker
McLean County Behavioral Health Coordinating Council Supervisor Trisha Malott (center) and County Administrator Bill Wasson (right) report to the council on Friday, March 8, 2019.

A mental health triage center is on pace to open this spring in the building housing the McLean County Health Department on West Front Street in downtown Bloomington.

McLean County Behavioral Health Coordinating Council Supervisor Trisha Malott said she hopes to finish hiring, train staff, and open in May.

Malott said the center will have two people at all times—one a triage specialist, the other a peer with lived-experience in mental health issues.

"Most of the models around the country that are doing something similar all have peers on staff. Some of them actually are completely peer run and benefit greatly from having that support," said Malott.

The triage center is supposed to ease burdens on the county jail, the courts, and emergency rooms by figuring out faster than before the mental health services people need.

"We could take an individual who may have presented to the triage center in person but may not be in acute crisis and may benefit from a call to PATH (Providing Access To Help). We may also be able to quickly ascertain that a person really does need the emergency department and can call for an ambulance," said Malott.

It's part of an expansion in mental health services funded by an areawide sales tax increase.

Police have also received training in how to assess the mental conditions of people and will be urged to use the triage center instead of the jail or ER, when warranted.

McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson said the need for police to be the initial point of contact with people in mental distress shaped the location of the triage center near the jail, Sheriff's Department, Law and Justice Center, and Bloomington Police headquarters.

"These programs are most accepted by law enforcement agencies and utilized by law enforcement agencies as a diversion from the justice system, a pre-adjudication diversion, if they are related to governmental entities, to the county, and giving that almost a one stop location is a benefit," said Wasson.

Since police are the front line for some of the people who will use the triage center, Wasson said it's important they be well drilled in protocols, and the longer officers go without exercising that training, the shakier the link to the triage center can get. He said the Stevenson Center at Illinois State University studied the first two years of training for officers.

"One of the things we learned after the first two years of the program is that there is a significant dropoff in retention after the first 60 to 90 days, especially if they have not engaged in a situation with a person with mental health issues over a thirty to 45-day period, then there is a significant dropoff in retention and there is a significant dropoff in the likelihood of them using especially a pre-diversionary strategy like the triage center," said Wasson.

Wasson said New York University has agreed to let McLean County beta test a new assessment tool it is also testing with Indianapolis police to see if that improves accuracy in officer referrals of those with mental health issues and keeps officers sharper in their training.

"Most of these tools are developed based on very large metropolitan areas. We believe we give them an opportunity to also develop that tool to specialize it for jurisdictions our size," said Wasson.

Even after the center opens, it will not be a finished effort at first. McLean County Board Chair John McIntyre said other centers the county has studied have had to make adjustments.

"There are things that need to be worked out. One thing that Chicago-Cook County had was transporting when it was determined they had to be taken to the emergency room. So we'll work on those things and fine tune it," said McIntyre.

The Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, which accepted all the previous reports, also decided to move head with development of a plan to expand mental health programming for youth and children in the county. That will likely come to the council and then to the county board in June. 

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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