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Mental health pros could begin responding to crises with Modesto cops by November

Modesto Bee - 9/28/2022

Sep. 28—At least one mental health clinician should be riding with Modesto patrol officers as soon as early November, responding to calls involving people in crisis.

The effort is a partnership between Stanislaus County's Behavioral Health and Recovery Services and the Police Department and revives the department's Mobile Crisis Emergency Response Team, or MCERT.

There is funding for the Police Department eventually to have four clinicians for a year and then two of them through June 2025, according to the county. That reflects the use of different funding sources, each with its own timeline and requirements.

Each clinician would be paired with an officer who has received 40 hours in crisis response training from BHRS.

The Sheriff's Department also is launching a similar program, pairing a mental health clinician with an emergency medical technician.

The county also is providing Modesto with funding to expand and extend the life of the Police Department'sCommunity Health and Assistance Team. CHAT outreach workers respond to calls involving people in crisis in which there is not the potential for violence.

But the clinician-and-officer teams will respond to calls that have that potential, such as a distraught family member who has a knife and is threatening to kill himself.

Officers would secure the scene before the clinician engages with someone. "The clinician's safety is paramount," Police Chief Brandon Gillespie said.

CHAT workers also primarily help people who are homeless and living in parks and other public spaces and try to connect them to services. The county is paying to expand CHAT from six to 10 outreach workers and add two supervisors and an analyst.

The analyst will gather data on the CHAT and MCERT calls for service. This will let the Police Department make better use of these resources.

The Modesto City Council in April approved restarting MCERT for one year with two BHRS clinicians and paying for it with about $390,000 in the city's one-time federal pandemic relief funding. The hope was the program could start this summer.

But there is a statewide shortage in mental health professionals. The nonprofit, nonpartisan news site CalMatters has detailed the decades-in-the-making crisis in a five-part series. BHRS worked to fill clinician vacancies for its outpatient programs before recruiting for MCERT.

As an example of the crisis, BHRS is allocated 97 full-time clinicians but had 39 vacancies in March 2021, said Kevin Panyanouvong, the chief operations officer and associate director for the county agency. He said BHRS had 14 vacancies as of Sept. 20.

Recruiting, keeping clinicians

The county has increased clinicians' pay and made other changes in an effort to hire and keep them.

BHRS recently hired two clinicians to work with law enforcement. They are expected to start Oct. 10 and should start responding to calls in early November after completing their training.

While two clinicians have been hired, the Police Department may only get one of them. The other would go to the Sheriff's Department.

Panyanouvong said the Sheriff's Department will have a clinician and an EMT in an ambulance and have them arrive after deputies have secured the scene. The department eventually will have two teams. The county has grant funding for this through June 2025.

He said the goal is to have both programs start at the same time, but if the Sheriff's Department is not ready, the second clinician would be assigned to the Police Department.

BHRS continues to recruit for the four additional clinicians to work with the Police and Sheriff's departments. The clinicians are social workers, marriage and family therapists or clinical psychologists with graduate degrees. More information about working as a BHRS clinician is available at

Panyanouvong said the first two Police Department clinicians will work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, and the second pair will work 2 to 10 p.m. weekdays. The Sheriff's Department clinicians will work 2 to 10 p.m. weekdays.

County Assistant Executive Officer Ruben Imperial said the county understands the community's desire for this service. "Our goal is to get these programs up and running," he said.

Funding for five years

The county also is spending some of its Community Corrections Plan funding on Modesto's MCERT and CHAT programs. The county Board of Supervisors in July approved a $38.5 million plan, which includes nearly $8 million for the city. The money will let the city expand and operate CHAT for five years.

The city started CHAT in 2021 with some of its federal funding. As that funding expires, the city will use the county's funding. Gillespie said he expects to ask the City Council at the end of the year to approve expanding and extending CHAT. And with the council's approval, he expects to hire the additional employees in early 2023.

Panyanouvong said the MCERT program operated from at least 2009 through 2016. He said it had two clinicians. Gillespie has said the program was discontinued because of budget and staffing constraints.

This story was originally published September 28, 20226:00 AM.


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