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Our View: Local crisis center helps to bridge gap between health care, law enforcement agencies

Our View: Local crisis center helps to bridge gap between health care, law enforcement agencies

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A valuable community asset that helps bridge the gap between health care providers/behavioral science services and law enforcement agencies has just celebrated its first year of successful operation in Abingdon and Washington County.

Called the Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center, the agency for the past year has combined the efforts of Abingdon-based Highlands Community Services with collaborators such as Washington County, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Ballad Health.

Now, it has shifted its focus to make the Abingdon Police Department the “operations partner for the law enforcement side of the program,” the agency said in an announcement.

Here’s what the center does, according to Kandace Miller-Phillips, director of Crisis Services for Highlands Community Services:

“This program is designed to be a bridge between behavioral health crisis situations, law enforcement interventions and emergency-room medical screenings,” she said.

“We have exceeded our first-year targets and saved approximately 550 hours of law enforcement time — while reducing emergency room visits and hours of bed space occupancy — allowing us to serve 198 individuals in a calming environment that offers the opportunity to mitigate crisis concerns, begin safety planning and ultimately get these individuals the help they need to get back to their homes and community,” she said.

As for Highlands Community Services, it’s described on its website ( as “a multi-faceted Community Service Board providing mental health, substance use and developmental services to the residents of Washington County and Bristol, Virginia.”

The group says it serves “thousands of individuals each year” with a goal of providing “a full continuum of care” and “to increase access to innovative behavioral health services.”

The Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center says it was the first of 38 such programs throughout Virginia “to successfully partner with the Virginia State Police, allowing us to serve an even broader set of partners and citizens.”

Highlands says it also partners with the Bristol City Jail, Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority and the Southwest Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy.

Working with law enforcement seems like a good idea in crisis situations, particularly if this kind of collaboration can help de-escalate emergency situations involving mental health issues — which sometimes can progress quickly into major events, including violence.

“Our partnership with local law enforcement plays a vital role in the overall success of the program,” Miller-Phillips said. “Their efforts help decriminalize behavioral health and improve the safety of citizens and officers in what are often challenging and confusing situations.

“The education, understanding and preparation of [Crisis Intervention Team] trained officers continue to be key elements that ensure people are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and — at the end of the day — enables them to return home to their loved ones and their community,” she said.

The crisis team center is open seven days a week all year long, and “law enforcement referral of participants is a program requirement,” the center says.

We applaud this program and those who made it happen, and who continue to build upon its success. These kinds of programs help make our community a better place to live.

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