Law enforcement officers and medical personnel are called into situations every day where they are asked to make decisions regarding the needs of individuals experiencing crisis – some of these crisis involve individuals suffering from mental illness. The Assessment, Support and Prevent Program (ASAP) offered through Heartland Family Service is a team of volunteer, on-call licensed therapists trained in crisis intervention and communication who respond to Sarpy County Law Enforcement Officials in crisis situations.
Started in July 2008, the goal of the Assessment, Support and Prevention (ASAP) program is to provide immediate assistance to individuals in crisis with mental illness and substance abuse disorders and to ensure that they are served in the least restrictive, most normative setting possible. Since its inception, ASAP boasts an average response time of 11 minutes to crisis calls with nearly 1000 individuals in crisis being served during the last three years.
“Mental health crisis interventions are time consuming for Law Enforcement and can become more traumatic to those in crisis. The ASAP therapist’s goal is to intervene, in a timely fashion, and help return the individual to their pre-crisis state,” Darin Nelson, Heartland Family Service ASAP program director said.
ASAP therapists are on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year responding to calls from Law Enforcement anywhere in Sarpy County within 30 minutes. After assessing the individual(s) in crisis, the therapist will make recommendations to law enforcement for the best course of action to provide safety, support, and referral to the individual. ASAP will then complete a 24-hour telephone follow up with the individual to assess the needs post-crisis as well.
“This program is an important point in the intervention process for both those in crisis and law enforcement,” Nelson said. “By assisting in crisis intervention we are allowing officers to return more quickly to the field and giving them piece of mind by having a licensed mental health professional assist them in dealing with a mental health crisis.”
The program has seen tremendous growth in the past few months. In December 2010 the ASAP program extended its services to youth in crisis with the ability to respond to Student Resource Officers (SRO) in Papillion, Bellevue, and La Vista schools. In January 2011, Heartland Family Service expanded this program into Pottawattamie County, Iowa where the Mental Health Crisis Response Team (MHCRT) is the ASAP counterpart. Region 6 has partnered with the Nebraska Family Help Line and ASAP will respond, with an officer, to crisis calls that need a face-to-face intervention from the Help Line.
Nelson says that the biggest challenge of the ASAP program is simply making sure officers know it is available.
“Often, while in the field, officers forget that they have the option of having ASAP respond to the crisis. Also, since there is always staff turnover with law enforcement, continual training needs to happen to keep everyone up to speed,” Nelson said. “We would like the opportunity to assist officers every time they encounter someone in a mental health crisis.”