On Wednesday, Shelby County Commissioners voted 10-0 on a resolution creating a partnership between the Shelby County Fire Department and Alliance Healthcare Services.
Through the agreement, Shelby County firefighters will be trained to respond and transport individuals suffering from mental health crises to the appropriate facilities to get help.
Commissioner David Bradford, the sponsor of the resolution, cited studies showing there’s been an increase in mental health issues following a year of pandemic-induced isolation and said he anticipates an increase in 911 calls dealing with mental health crises.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about four in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, which is an increase from 2019 reports that only one in 10 adults experienced mental distress.
“COVID-19 has increased social isolation, grief and anxiety and can exacerbate mental illness or create crises for people with no previous record,” said Bradford.
First responders are currently limited in their ability to respond to calls and can only transport individuals to the emergency room for care. This procedure can cause emergency rooms to become overwhelmed, said Bradford, and mental health patients in the middle of a breakdown can become even more agitated as they wait to be seen by a doctor.
“This commission made clear that mental health is just as important as physical health and has made access to mental care a priority,” said Bradford.
With approval from the Shelby County Fire Chief Alvin Benson, firefighters will receive training to provide the care necessary to de-escalate situations as first responders, and the program will be financed from the Fire Department Enterprise Fund.
Individuals will then be transported to mental health care facilities regardless of whether or not they have insurance and will be given the choice of being placed under 24-hour observation to assess what level of health care they will require.
Mental healthcare providers will be reporting results back to the program, and Benson anticipates success because patients are in direct contact with a mental health provider.
“This will enable us to add preventative action to the community and put people to the help that they need right away,” said Benson.
The resolution received praise by other commissioners who remarked on the momentum that can come from similar resolutions.
“I think this is very important as we continue to reimagine what policing looks like in Shelby County and Memphis,” said Commissioner Tami Sawyer.