Doctors and counselors are not always the first to respond to mental health issues. Unfortunately, more often than not, that falls to law enforcement.
Law enforcement worked with a Stillwater facility by using an app to help deal with mental health crises.
The app, named Grand Care, is downloaded onto iPads. The iPads are then furnished in the officer’s car, to use when they get a call for a Signal 8 – a mental health evaluation.
“Each of our patrol officers has one of these issued, when we get a call of somebody in crisis, or someone in need patrol responds first,” Capt. Kyle Gibbs said. “They are the unit that is always dealing with people that need to be evaluated.”
Gibbs said they also have a few extra iPads at the police department as backups. In rare circumstances they may be used by someone in the Payne County Jail.
“The iPad is a normal iPad that you can get at a retail store. However, we put it in single app mode, which means they can be used for nothing else, except the Grand Care App,” said Larry Smith, chief operating officer at Grand Lake Mental Health.
Smith said that they take care of all the data plans, the Wi-Fi and upgrading the iPads when needed. Unfortunately if cell towers are down due to inclement weather, the app won’t work.
Grand Care works by pushing a button on the iPad that reaches a therapist at GLMH. It’s basically Facetiming a therapist.
“If a police officer was with someone that was having a mental health crisis, they would push the button and hand the iPad to the person needing to talk to a therapist,” Smith said.
Patients are also able to use the iPads at their home in case a crisis appears, or a therapist can reach out to the patient through the iPad.
“IPads are issued to every law enforcement official in GLMH’s catchment area,” City Manager Norman McNickle said. “The iPads put the person in distress immediately in contact with a mental health professional at the scene of the officers contact with the individual.”
McNickle served on the police force for 39 years before becoming public safety director and then city manager. He said in the early days of his career he didn’t encounter a lot of emotionally disturbed people. As Stillwater grew, so did contact with people who were in various forms of mental health crises.
During the time that McNickle was working as an officer, he became aware of issues in Stillwater when dealing with mental illness cases.
One of the issues officers faced was outside travel time. Officers had to transport patients outside the city of Stillwater, which was costly.
According to McNickle, since the crisis center opened on Nov. 18, 41 people have been admitted to the crisis center here in Stillwater. Only 10 additional people have been transported out of town to other facilities.
“The number of out-of-town transports has decreased by 83%,” McNickle said. “As a bonus, this has saved the citizens of Stillwater a minimum of $23,985 in transportation costs.”
Another issue they faced was the wait time in hospitals. It could take up to 18 hours for patients to receive a bed.
With the addition of the iPads, patients no longer have to wait several hours for a bed.
“They used to have to take them to the emergency room and find a bed, and that could take up to 18 hours,” Smith said. “Now it’s a 15-minute process.”
The idea behind Grand Care was to offer help when and where the patient needs it, to cut down out of town transports and cut down the waiting 18 hours for a bed, when they may not need one.
“The whole concept was let’s break down and take this time for people going through a crisis. Lets not retraumatize them by having them in an emergency room waiting 18 hours for a bed,” Smith said.
McNickle said Oklahoma still has a lot to improve in this area. With GLMH here in Stillwater, the situation has greatly improved.
GLMH uses the newest technology to help those patients wherever they may be. The app and iPads have helped the Stillwater Police Department in many ways. Making the evaluation of those having a crisis easier and faster than before, but Smith said the real story is their app.
“When you look at the whole picture, the iPad is just a piece of the whole system. However, it is a piece that no one else provides in the state of Oklahoma and as far as I know the United States,” Smith said. “We had the app actually written and then upgraded for the specific purpose of serving people in the community and getting help to them.”