LAS VEGAS – The City of North Las Vegas is joining a growing number of municipalities locally and across the nation in changing how it responds to calls for service involving mental health and substance use.
According to the North Las Vegas Fire Department, over the last 12 months, the city has seen 4,244 incidents involving psychiatric, behavioral health, or substance use issues. That’s an average of 11.6 incidents per day.
The North Las Vegas Fire Dept. has gotten the green light to create a Crisis Response Unit. It will include licensed clinical social workers and medical professionals who will respond to 911 calls involving mental health or substance use when appropriate and connect people with the proper resources.
Fire Chief Joseph Calhoun said this new unit could get people specialized help that his team may not be properly trained to provide.
“We’re not only medical people, and we not only put out fires, but we’ve become plumbers and pastors and counselors, and that was always good that we were the jack of all trades to deal with whatever problem somebody might have, but we’ve realized that that’s not always the best bet. Somebody needs more help than we can truly provide,” Chief Joseph Calhoun said.
He said this could provide more effective solutions for citizens, too, because incarceration or hospitalization isn’t always the answer to those types of calls.
“Our emergency rooms throughout the valley, throughout the country are inundated with things that really don’t need to go to an emergency room, and so this with this unit, we’ll be able to assess that person and take them to a mental health facility instead of to a hospital where they’re not going to get the help that they need,” Calhoun said. “We’re trying to get the right things to the right folks at the right times.”
He added that substance use and mental health issues often intersect with homelessness, and this unit can also connect unhoused individuals with proper resources.
Officials estimate the Crisis Response Unit could impact 1,800 patients or more in just one year. A big key to this is following up with those folks they serve to reduce repeat 911 calls. That’s where the city’s existing CORE, or Collaborative Outreach Referral and Evaluation Program, will come in. It currently provides free social work services to citizens when a need is identified.
“Follow up through social work, through case management with those individuals, with those patients. ‘Have you seen your physician? What can we do to assist you in getting those services?’ Because we can take care of the immediate; it’s the after effect that actually is more important for sustainability,” said Frank Simone, North Las Vegas EMS Chief, who oversees the CORE Program.
Chief Calhoun said the Crisis Response Unit is expected to hit the streets around the start of 2024. He said earmarked federal dollars will fund the unit’s first year, and they’ve just secured state funding to sustain the team further into the future.
“We’re already moving forward with at least 3 to 4 more years of this project after this first year,” Calhoun said. “This isn’t the end of the program. This isn’t just a trial. This is something that we know will make a difference, and we’re already looking to continue this well into the future in North Las Vegas.”
This is a positive step forward for North Las Vegas, and it is something that other cities should consider. People with mental health and substance use issues deserve specialized care, and this unit will be able to provide that. The fact that the city is also committed to following up with these individuals is also important, as it will help to reduce repeat 911 calls and ensure that people are getting the long-term help they need.
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