University of Wisconsin: UW Police, UHS Mental Health Services partner to help students in crisis

Beginning Oct. 4, there will be an additional resource responding with university police to 911 calls on campus about students experiencing a mental health crisis: Two trained mental health professionals from University Health Services (UHS). The mental health professionals’ role will include, where appropriate, transporting students to the hospital.

This partnership has been in active planning since fall 2020 with consultation from the Mental Health Services’ Student Advisory Board, BIPOC Coalition, and Associated Students of Madison (ASM). Additionally, ASM will provide funding for a program vehicle to transport mental health responders.

This new approach is known as a “co-responder model.” This model is considered a best practice around the country and blends well with the city of Madison’s Community Alternative Response for Emergency Services (CARES) program, which started September 1. Many other universities are adopting similar co-responder practices. “This is a crucial step to ensure that students experiencing a mental health crisis – and those who are working to help them – know that they will be cared for,” says Sarah Nolan, UHS Director of Mental Health Services, and a licensed psychologist.

“This is a partnership that we’ve been cultivating for many years,” says UWPD Chief Kristen Roman. “While our officers receive initial and ongoing specialized training focused on responding to mental health crises and will continue to do so, we understand that a police response is not always the most appropriate option. Police departments across the country have been calling for a more collaborative response to these challenging situations for a long time. I’m pleased that we are able to put this program in place here.”

“I am excited that UHS Mental Health Services is taking a step in this direction and will be co-responding to mental health calls and providing transportation to the hospital for some students,” says ASM Chair Adrian Lampron. “It is crucial that we support our community members experiencing mental health crises by deploying mental health professionals. ASM is committed to these ideas and has set aside $3,284 in capital expenses in our budget to get a crisis response program running on our campus. We will be able to use some of those funds to support the hospital transport program.”

Several UHS mental health clinicians will work in teams of two and rotate accompanying UWPD on calls regarding student mental health crisis. The program will begin with two days per week and will eventually run Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. as UHS staffing allows. UHS staff and UWPD are training together on how to provide acute care for those in a mental health crisis. The university will decide on future changes to the program after evaluating the pilot.

“This is an important partnership that will help those struggling. One call can make a difference,” says Josie Montañez-Tyler, a UHS crisis specialist who will participate in the co-responder model.

Montañez-Tyler and other UHS crisis workers will also follow up with any student they encounter, to help connect them with additional resources. “We want to provide continuity of care so that students can have their needs met,” she says.

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