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UNI mobile team is there when crisis strikes

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Posted at 4:54 PM, Aug 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-21 16:57:37-04

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The following article is sponsored by University of Utah Health Care.

by Natalie Dicou

One minute they might be sitting down with a teen in West Valley City who says she doesn’t want to live anymore. The next they may be called Downtown to assess how to help a businessman who has gone off his meds or to Draper to visit with a grandmother struggling to keep her grip on reality.

The University Neuropsychiatric Institute Mobile Crisis Outreach Team is always on the go, 24-7, meeting people in homes, schools, shelters, private therapy offices, workplaces, clinics, parks — practically anywhere in Salt Lake County where someone is in the midst of a mental health crisis.

“We get to do the right thing for everybody in the community,” said Don Fennimore, a Clinical Mental Health Counselor at University of Utah Health Care and director of the mobile unit, a free service offered in partnership with Salt Lake County and OptumHealth. “It doesn’t matter if they have the best funding in the world or they have no insurance at all. We just go out and solve problems.”

Often, calls to the UNI CrisisLine, 801-587-3000 — which is staffed by mental health professionals who can deploy the mobile team — will come from a worried husband, daughter or brother who doesn’t know where to turn when a family member is expressing suicidal thoughts or intentions. Appointments with psychiatrists aren’t typically available on a whim so the fast-acting response team provides a safety net to ensure no one need endure an acute mental health crisis alone.

The team works in pairs: a licensed clinician with the expertise to assess a patient in crisis and a certified peer specialist who may have been in a similar situation and can relate. The two may spend just a few minutes or up to a few hours evaluating how to help.

“The first thing we’ll do is try to get the person settled down, deescalate the situation,” Fennimore said. “Our goal is to make the person comfortable talking with us.”

Being invited into a space where an individual feels at ease — perhaps on a living room couch or around a kitchen table — is a unique opportunity that frequently provides clues about what is really going on that may not be apparent in a sterile ER.

“Sometimes what we do is part detective work,” said Fennimore of interpreting the problem and determining the best action plan, whether that means pointing an individual toward mental health resources, substance abuse counseling, or even recommending a trip to the ER, which only occurs in about 5% of visits.

“We’re not there to hospitalize people,” Fennimore said. “We’re there to solve the crisis, and if at all possible, keep people in place and give them the resources to get through this.”

In certain cases, Fennimore and his colleagues may advise a person to go to the UNI Receiving Center where patients can stay in a safe, secure environment for up to 23 hours. Another option is the UNI Wellness Recovery Center, a residential program where patients can receive treatment for several weeks. Stationed at three locations throughout Salt Lake County, the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team generally goes on about 300 calls each month with slightly more than one-third of calls initiated by police or the fire department. The mobile team doesn’t do cold calls so if a mother says she believes her son is in trouble, a crisis specialist will ask “Can you meet us there?” While it may appear that the mobile team enters a lot of dangerous situations, there’s hasn’t been an incident since the program began three and a half years ago, Fennimore said.

In addition to paying a person a visit, clinicians will often do other research to figure out a treatment approach, such as interviewing family members. The day after a meeting with an individual, the clinician will call the individual to make sure he or she is out of crisis mode.

Simply receiving a visit can leave a person with a sense of relief, Fennimore said.

Plus, he adds: “If they need us, they always know in the future they can call us out again.”

Are you struggling but don’t feel your problem is severe enough to call the CrisisLine?

The Warm Line, 801-587-1055, is available daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. to Salt Lake County residents seeking support, engagement and encouragement. Certified peer specialists empower callers to resolve problems by fostering hope, dignity and self-respect in an environment free of judgment.

Follow University of Utah Health Care writer Natalie Dicou on Twitter @NatalieDicou