I-Team: HPD crisis squad finds new ways to handle mentally ill

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by Jeff McShan / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on October 28, 2010 at 11:56 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 5 at 2:43 PM

HOUSTON -- Dealing with the city’s growing mentally-ill population is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult jobs facing the Houston Police Department today.

HPD says funding, which provides help for Houston's mentally ill, has been on the decline for years. The result has meant more 911 calls asking for police assistance.

The 11 News I-Team witnessed this firsthand by riding along with HPD for a couple of days.

No one knows the situation Harris County is facing better than Dr. Steven Schnee, the executive director of The Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority.

“They need ongoing treatment. We don't have a magic pill,” Schnee said. “The State of Texas funds the MHMRA outpatient system for approximately 8,800 outpatient slots.”

But every month, MHMRA in Harris County gets an additional 400 to 500 people referred to them, he said. And right now, more than 160,000 people need psychological help.

“I believe the system is really flawed because we are treating these conditions, these serious conditions as short-term conditions,” Schnee said.

Until recently, many of these patients ended up in the Harris County Jail.

There are currently more than 2,500 mentally ill people being held there.

But the trend to lock them up is slowly changing.

HPD has teamed up with MHMRA and formed a unit called CIRT. It stands for the Crisis Intervention Response Team.

It's just a start, but right now the department has seven trained officers on the streets. Each officer is joined by an MHMRA clinician.
A clinician is armed with a laptop and a master’s degree, which enables them to check medical histories and guide the patient to the best possible care available at that moment.

Riding along with the team for several days was an eye-opener. We learned the unit can be dispatched all over the city.

The officers often race to suicide threats or calls involving some of the city’s homeless.

“When's the last time you had anything to eat?” Sgt. Patrick Plourde asked a man who said his name was T.J.
T.J. seemed to be hearing voices and was delusional.

“He doesn't have any identification.  He says Satan took it away from him,” said Officer Joe Olsen.

Since CIRT started a few months ago, it has taken more than 1,100 mentally ill patients to MHMRA’s Psychiatric Emergency Services / NeuroPsychiatric Center.

“The officers right now that are working full time have the patience of Job,” one officer said.

And nobody appreciates that more than Debra Jameton, who called police to report that her mother had attacked her and was out of control. Police responded and transported her schizophrenic mother to Ben Taub.

“They are the only one that seems to understand what is going on you know. They come in because they've done the training for all this,” said Jameton.

The mental health squad will not solve all the problems of Houston's mentally ill, but it is making a difference.

We learned they are doing their best to protect all of us and the patients who often want to hurt themselves.

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