Mental health professionals and police team up in Spokane’s Community Diversion Unit

At just under a year old, a new jail diversion program is finding success in Spokane.

The Community Diversion Unit (CDU), a product of Trueblood settlement funds, pairs mental health professionals and police to respond to individuals in the community experiencing homelessness or mental health crises. Working side-by-side, the co-deployed teams aim to divert individuals away from jails and hospitals and connect them to the services and resources they may need.  

 

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The CDU is a partnership between Spokane law enforcement and Frontier Behavioral Health (FBH), a nonprofit organization that provides behavioral health care and services in collaboration with community partners. FBH was awarded grant money though an RFP to develop a community-based diversion team.

There are currently four co-deployment teams working in Spokane. The mental health professionals ride along with police officers and respond to calls where individuals might be in crisis.

The partnerships allow for a “joint response that strengthens their ability to divert people from being arrested, and moves them in the direction of community resources as an alternative to try to help stabilize them in the community,” says Jan Dobbs, Chief Operating Officer at FBH.   

Several of the services FBH offers aim to address homelessness, which Dobbs describes as a significant “destabilizing factor” in Spokane. FBH has beds available through local shelters, like House of Charity and Truth Ministries, for individuals to stay overnight.

Dobbs also says she is in the process of securing a contract with local detox services to help people with substance use disorder access inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Those contacted through the CDU also have access to FBH’s stabilization unit and evaluation and treatment facilities.

“Our focus with the co-deploy teams is diversion. But if you’re going to divert people, you have to divert them to something and you have to be sure that what you’re diverting them to is something that meets their needs and something that they’re going to follow through with,” says Dobbs.

The CDU program launched in July 2018. As of March 2019, the co-deploy teams have contacted 734 individuals, and have diverted 503 (68 percent) of those individuals from jail or the emergency department.

Dobbs says that police officers have been supportive of the diversion project.

“Very soon after we started this, we had officers requesting our staff because they saw the impact. They saw how we could connect them with resources that they might not have even known existed, and they saw how we could get people connected very rapidly,” says Dobbs. “So, now…there are other officers who will call into dispatch and saying, ‘Hey, can I get the co-deploy team out here?’”

During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers passed new legislation and allocated additional funding related to the Trueblood settlement agreement.

Looking to the future, Dobbs says they are exploring several options to continue expanding their diversion program and assisting individuals impacted by the Trueblood settlement, including utilizing 24/7 co-deploy teams, attaching a forensic navigator to the court system, connecting high utilizers to case management, and developing outpatient competency restoration.

“The 2019 Trueblood settlement is very robust. But the goals and the mission has not changed — it’s about providing people with the right services at the right time,” says Dobbs.