Fairbanks Mobile Crisis Teams awarded $800,000 grant to strengthen crisis response

To continue enhancing Alaska’s response to individuals experiencing mental health distress, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees has awarded $800,000 in Trust grant funding to Alaska Behavioral Health (AKBH) for the continued support of the Fairbanks Mobile Crisis Team (MCT).  

The Trust supported the launch of Fairbanks’s MCT, which began operations in November of 2021. Fairbanks’s MCT is comprised of mental health professionals and peer support specialists who assess individuals experiencing mental health distress while providing trauma-informed care, with a focus on suicide prevention.

 

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“This grant will support the ongoing deployment of a clinician/peer support professional mobile crisis team to help individuals in crisis stabilize in the community instead of in a more acute care setting like an emergency room or jail,” said Steve Williams, Trust CEO.  

The mobile response unit was created as the current system of care struggles to provide timely access to crisis services and the inability to meet individuals where they’re experiencing crises. The current system of care frequently relies heavily on law enforcement, the criminal justice system and hospital emergency rooms to respond to behavioral health crises, according to Fairbanks MCT.  

“The mobile crisis team had 321 diversions from law enforcement, hospitalization, and incarceration,” Brenda McFarlane, Crisis Now Coordinator for Fairbanks, told State of Reform.  

The diversions occurred during the first full year of the program—from November 1st, 2021, to October 31st, 2022. Fairbanks MCT call volume is higher now after a year of operations, according to McFarlane, who told State of Reform that November 2022 had 89 calls with 89% diversion from law enforcement, incarceration, and hospitalization. 

“Our numbers will be significantly higher next year as our callout area will also be expanding,” McFarlane told State of Reform. 

MCT is dispatched by the 911 dispatch center in Fairbanks and provides services to any person in the North Star Borough in their home, workplace, or other community-based locations.  

Services include triage and screening; assessment; de-escalation and resolution; peer support; coordination with medical and behavioral health services; collaboration with families and natural supports; information and referrals; and crisis planning and follow-up.  

The Trust designates a portion of its operating budget for several types of grants, which are awarded to organizations that represent one or more of the Trust’s beneficiary groups. The Trust authorizes about $20 million in grants annually. 

This $800,000 grant, which funds the program until November 30th, 2023, will assist with providing needed crisis stabilization services in Alaska using the Crisis Now model as framework. Crisis Now is a continuum of services to improve mental health crisis response; prevent suicide; and reduce reliance on law enforcement, emergency rooms and jails when responding to crises. The model includes a crisis call center, mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization centers.  

Not only will the grant support Fairbanks’s MCT staffing, but it will also support the ongoing coordination with local government, emergency services, law enforcement, and community healthcare stakeholders that help ensure the success of MCT operations, according to the Trust.  

“We’ve been pleased to make a difference for Fairbanks residents in crisis through operating Alaska’s first mobile crisis team,” said Sarah Koogle, AKBH Fairbanks Clinic Manager. “We are grateful for the Trust’s support to continue this work, which is improving outcomes for individuals in crisis.”  

The Trust’s Crisis Now report suggests that there could be approximately 200 crisis episodes per 100,000 North Star Borough residents, with 1,021 annual episodes for the MCTs. So far this year, Fairbanks MCT has received over 700 dispatched calls, according to Biastock.