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Social workers, mental health professionals could soon respond to certain 911 calls in Louisville

(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)
Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 10:23 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - 911 calls may no longer be handled only by police officers in Louisville.

Researchers from Spalding University, the University of Louisville and Seven Counties Services have started developing a plan to incorporate mental health professionals and social workers into certain 911 calls.

“Often times 911 calls are made because that’s the only thing folks know to do when they’re in a moment of crisis,” Shannon Cambron, Chair of Spalding University’s School of Social Work, said.

“If LMPD goes, then their available tools that they have are nothing because no one is breaking the law,” Susan Buchino, an assistant director and assistant professor at the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, said.

According to the group, mental health professionals and social workers are more equipped to handle a mental health crisis. Their pilot program, which could launch as early as next year pending Louisville Metro Council’s approval, would allow behavioral professionals to respond to mental health emergencies, either with or without police.

Psychiatric nurse practitioner and owner of Sage Mental Health Jessica Eckhoff supports the measure. Before opening her own private practice in Middletown, Eckhoff worked inside a women’s prison providing psychiatric care to inmates.

“Many of those women are there because of issues that really required more of a mental intervention rather than a criminal past,” Eckhoff said. “I think (the program) is a very wise move. That, and educating the police themselves about when this might be a mental health crisis versus criminal behavior. They can look alike.”

Eckhoff told WAVE 3 News the area needs more mental health providers to help with the program though.

“That person can look at them from a holistic point of view, not just one set of symptoms they experienced one night when the cops were called, which is where the system has issues now, and to develop a treatment plan so that they don’t face those issues in the future,” Eckhoff said.

The pilot program would cost around $2.9 million if approved.

The Spalding University School of Social Work will organize focus groups and a community survey as the program gets underway. The groups will present a progress report to Louisville Metro Government this summer, which is funding the initial research through “reimagining public safety” grants and forfeiture money from the Louisville Metro Police Department.

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