Advocating for the Community – Faith in Action
Any family that has experienced mental health challenges knows that mental health services are needed across a spectrum of capabilities, especially during a crisis. A call to “911” results in a response by police officers. If the family is lucky, they will encounter officers specifically trained for mental health crises. Do you know what happens next? Do you know what options are available to the person, the family or the officer here in Prince William County?
Not all mental health crises are the same and too often, a call to 911 results in a loved one interacting with the criminal justice system or an overcrowded emergency room. In either case mental health care is often delayed and the responding officer gathers “wall time” waiting for admission or in-processing. It’s important that families and responding officers/health care professionals have a range of options appropriate to the person and his or her mental illness symptoms being presented.
Prince William County Police Department has recently implemented “co-responder” units. Now when residents call 911 for a mental health crisis emergency, a mental health professional is partnered with a police officer to respond to the call. This often deescalates the crisis – but not always. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, there is still room for improvement in ensuring that individuals experiencing mental health crisis get care in a timely manner so as not to exacerbate or escalate an already acute mental health issue.
In the culmination of several years of advocacy and planning, Prince William County has announced the creation of a Crisis Receiving Center (CRC): a facility staffed by mental health professionals where police and the public can take people in the midst of a mental health crisis instead of hospital emergency rooms or jail. The center will be located at the former Gander Mountain building near Potomac Mills.
The first phase of the CRC will be equipped with eight 23-hour recliners and eight psychiatric beds. This phase is expected to take 18-24 months. The follow-on phase hopes to double the size of the facility and include the ability to serve children and youth.
The CRC was the results of faith in action. As many of you know, St. Francis of Assisi parish is a community dedicated to living out our gospel mandate as disciples of Jesus Christ, reaching out to people in need. Our St. Francis House is a well-known example. Another great example is the parish VOICE Ministry (the local interface with Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement). Over the past year here in Prince William County, VOICE has been working with the Board of Supervisors and other partners to create the CRC. This is our faith in action.
Call to Action: Yet this is not yet “mission accomplished.” Phase 1 is funded, but Phase 2 funding is also needed. In addition, there are also state regulations and other barriers that prevent CRC’s from being fully effective in Virginia.
Has your family experienced mental health needs/crises? We hope to engage parishioners willing to share their experiences and stories and to tell us how a CRC would have benefitted their loved one – from teens to adults, military veterans and people in the everyday stress of life in Northern Virginia. If you are a first responder (police and medical) we hope to hear your perspective of how a CRC would have been a help in your experiences.
We need your help in order to widen our circle of support and gain the needed additional funding for the full buildout. If you are interested, want to learn more or believe you can help in this effort, please contact the parish VOICE Ministry Lead: Tony Mercogliano, [email protected]. Learn more about this and other efforts from your parish VOICE ministry at https://stfrncis.org/voice/ .