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Searching for solutions on mental health holds

The Davison County Public Safety Center. (Republic file photo)

Local advocates are brainstorming alternative methods to assist people with mental health crises.

The Mitchell Area Suicide Prevention Coalition is working to find a different location, other than a jail, to place an individual overnight in what's known as a mental health hold.

"The goal is to try and figure out what to do to make the experience less traumatizing for people but still keep them safe," said Joy Anderson, a counselor at Dakota Counseling Institute.

Mental health holds allow for a correctional facility to place individuals on a temporary lockdown while medical professionals and counselors prepare to transfer them to in-patient treatment facilities. South Dakota is one of five states with laws still allowing this practice.

Earlier this year, Colorado was the latest state to outlaw the practice after delegating more than $9 million to pay for local crisis centers and training for law enforcement and transportation programs.

The ideal placement for individuals in mental health crises, according to the coalition, is a hospital room, rather than a jail cell.

Anderson explained previous requests for services from medical and behavioral health facilities in Mitchell were unsuccessful, in part due to funding issues.

"Even if we could get one to two beds available at these facilities, there would also need to be a doctor and or psychologist available 24/7 or on call," Anderson said.

A crisis intervention team was discussed as one possible alternative. Ariana Arampatzis, Dakota Wesleyan University's development officer in the Department of Institutional Advancement, said Rapid City is already using such methods in place of mental health holds.

In 2011, a 24-hours-a-day Crisis Care Center was established in Pennington County, designed for individuals having a mental health crisis to avoid utilizing mental health holds at local jails.

"How a person enters the health care system determines how well they are going to heal," Arampatzis said. "So if they are entering the jail it did not solve the underlying problem."

Mitchell Police already use crisis intervention team (CIT) training, but Mitchell Police Sgt. Joel Reinesch said more can be done.

A method of community policing, a CIT brings together law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency hospital emergency departments and individuals with mental illness and their families to improve responses to people in crisis.

Both Reinesch and Assistant Mitchell Police Chief Mike Koster received CIT training two years ago at the Human Services Center in Yankton. The weeklong program involves 40 hours of scenario-based training, designed to teach best practices when dealing with individuals in a variety of mental health crises or situations.

"It is by far one of the best trainings I have had," Reinesch said. "It teaches how to deal with these mental health crises, but just on a greater level."

According to Reinesch, Mitchell Police hopes to have all the officers go through CIT training, but it depends on when courses are offered and scheduling.

Arampatzis is researching pieces of legislation passed in other rural states in hopes to find the right solution for communities like Mitchell.

"Since South Dakota is so rural, it is hard to blanket it as this is the one protocol for the whole state," Arampatzis said.

A community-based solution is the ideal situation according to Arampatzis. But the biggest concern is if the jail is not going to be used, there is another holding facility in place to fall back on.