As Cases Of Mental Illness Increase, Avera Health And Police Ban Together

Both Sioux Falls Police and Avera Health say they’ve seen an increase in cases involving mental health in Sioux Falls. Since Avera’s Behavioral Health Center opened more than 10 years ago,  the number of inpatient stays has nearly doubled. KDLT’s Jill Johnson talked to experts about the increase, and how the two groups are working together to curb future problems.

When the Avera Behavioral Health Center opened in 2006, it saw around 40 to 50 inpatient stays. Last year, there were 88. Avera’s Inpatient Director Thomas Otten says there are a number of reasons why.

“Our city is just growing, and certainly… new people bring new mental health issues,” said Otten. “Also, at younger and younger ages, I think kids are being exposed to things, and it’s a different world than maybe you or I grew up in, and so certainly those added pressures have brought additional admissions.”

Many times those patients first come into contact with police.

Sioux Falls Police Dept. Sgt. David Osterquist said, “Those calls can range anywhere from someone being in a social crisis where something in their lives have gone awry and they’re struggling to cope or someone truly experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Police say it can be a challenge knowing how to best deal with them.

“We want to be sure that when we’re dealing with someone who has a mental illness that we are first and foremost calm and reassuring and always keeping ourselves and the public safe, but working hard to de-escalate that situation,” said Osterquist.

Since 2012, nearly 100 officers have had Crisis Intervention Team Training that teaches them how to better address mental health needs. Part of that training includes a visit to the center on 69th Street. Avera Behavioral Health Center Clinical Tech Director Wade Hauglid says it helps erase the stigma that comes with mental illness and learn what resources are available.

“When individuals come in via law enforcement, if that’s the route, they know who to call, they know they can get some direction from our assessment team on how to best serve that person,” said Hauglid.

“It’s a very different feel today than it was 20 years ago if you talk about 4th floor, it definitely had a negative nomenclature to it,” Otten said. “If we can get them to treatment quickly and get people to overcome the stigma of getting treatment, it’s highly successful.”

Instead of taking people to jail for misdemeanor charges and placing them on a mental health hold, police say they can get them an assessment before they have to deal with the criminal aspects of their behavior. Police say 75 percent of their mental illness holds don’t need additional help after their first 24-hour assessment. Police say that means most of them are not experiencing a mental health crisis, but experiencing a crisis in that moment. They just needed someone to talk to and connect with.

“Having someone who gets the help that they need, who is connected with the resources that will help them cope with whatever circumstances that they’re facing then prevents that person from calling us again,” said Osterquist.

A bill passed in the South Dakota legislature this year would expand Crisis Intervention Team Training to the whole state.

Sioux Falls Police also have access to a Mobile Crisis Team, which responds directly to the scene of an incident. They say 85 to 88 percent of the people who had contact with that team didn’t have contact with police again.

Osterquist says in the future he could see a Mobile Crisis Team member riding with an officer, responding specifically to these types of calls.

Police say they also work closely with Southeastern Behavioral HealthCare, the Board of Mental Illness, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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