Mobile Crisis teams offer solutions to substance abuse, mental health issues

Published 6:41 pm Monday, February 1, 2016

Keith Hamm remembers well how he once unknowingly saved a man’s life at a bus stop.

Hamm said he found him sitting there in tears, and the man explained how he spent all of his money to buy a ticket to travel there after his ex-fiancée asked him to come back.

Upon arrival, the man’s former fiancée said she never wanted to see him again, leaving him alone and with no money left for anything.

“I said, ‘Sir, I’m sorry to bother you, but you’re obviously very upset. Can I help?” Hamm recalled. “(He said), ‘Here I sit, I’ve got no money, I can’t buy a cup of coffee, let alone get home.”

As is his nature, Hamm sprang into action, and helped find resources for the man to return home safely. It wasn’t until later that he realized that very man had decided to commit suicide — until Hamm came along to help.

Mental health and substance abuse are two issues that often take a back seat, but are still of the utmost importance regarding treatment, according to Hamm.

Those struggling with either issue often go undiagnosed, or are faced with seemingly “quick fixes,” such as institutionalization or incarceration. And while the two are not always related, many substance abusers’ problems stem from mental health issues.

Hamm is a Mobile Crisis services supervisor with Integrated Family Services, and he said these are the loopholes he is trying to close, whether it’s a patient on drugs, someone at risk for suicide or a person who has experienced a crisis.

With indirect funding from Trillium Health Resources and the state, Mobile Crisis service providers are on call for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to intervene in an escalating situation of crisis. Integrated Family Services is one of the many private, direct providers.

Doctors, law enforcement, schools and the Department of Social Services contact these crisis teams in the event of an emergency related to mental health or substance abuse, and a Mobile Crisis responder acts as the first line of defense, so to speak, de-escalating the situation and referring the person to the appropriate resources.

Individuals can also call a central hotline, and team members are dispatched based on the individual’s location.

“We divert over 80 percent of the people we see from going to the hospital,” Hamm said. “I’ve met people in the Wal-Mart parking lot, I’ve met them at McDonald’s and I’ve met them (at work).”

Mobile Crisis teams serve 16 counties across eastern North Carolina, with a satellite location in Washington and someone stationed in Belhaven, as well.

Because of the funding sources, Hamm said the crisis teams can help anyone who needs it without any cost to him or her. If a person has insurance, then the company will be billed, but if the company won’t pay or the person doesn’t have any insurance, then there is no debt to be paid.

“We never come back to the people and say, ‘You owe us this because your insurance wouldn’t pay,’” he said. “I’m very thankful that it exists and that the state is willing to pay for it.”

While the program may seem like a financial drain, the state, and ultimately the taxpayers, is actually refunded in the long term, according to Hamm.

“Obviously, if we can intervene and this person doesn’t need to be hospitalized, then we’ve saved the state (money),” he said.

It’s a noble job, but it’s also a tough one: on-call responders can be called out to any location in their area at any hour of the day or night.

Most of those team members, however, can be heard saying the same statement: “The money’s nice, love to get it, helps me do things, but it’s the opportunity to help someone,” according to Hamm.

“The thing that keeps you coming back is the opportunity to give people hope,” he said.

Hamm said he would do his job for free, as Mobile Crisis teams are the ones who take a more personalized approach to those who are clearly hurting, even when agencies or organizations may not know what to do.

“We are called upon to help people when they are sometimes at their worst and they don’t have anywhere to turn,” he said. “That’s why I’m so pro-mobile crisis. … Somebody at some point has got to do something.”

To enlist the help of a Mobile Crisis team member, call 1-866-437-1821. The line is in operation for 24 hours a day and seven days a week.