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Ohio FD, PD partner with behavioral health specialists for crisis response pilot program

Officials in Akron announced the formation of the Summit County Outreach Team program

By Molly Walsh

AKRON, Ohio – Akron is launching a pilot program that will partner police and fire officials with behavioral health specialists when responding to mental health crises.

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik, joined by several city and county officials, announced the start of the Summit County Outreach Team program, a mobile response service with medical professionals and a police officer to respond to calls where mental health may be a concern.

During a press conference at Akron Fire Station 4 on Tuesday morning, the city’s interim police chief, Brian Harding, and Fire Chief Joe Natko said the team will help officers in crisis situations.

Akron City Council voted in December to authorize the $85,000 contract with the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board to start the project.

“I am excited to pilot this initiative with our community partners with a lens towards serving Summit County individuals and families by offering an alternative to hospitalization or criminal justice involvement when someone is struggling with their mental health,” Aimee Wade, executive director of the board said.

The response team will be deployed by dispatch and will include a clinician from Portage Path Behavioral Health, an Akron police officer and a paramedic. The team will have its own vehicle to respond to emergency calls.

Dr. Tracy Yaeger, the president and CEO of Portage Path Behavioral Health, said the program offers innovative responses to individuals in crisis in the community, leading to better outcomes for each individual.

“It is important that we all work together to find new solutions, assist our first responders, build services that are an effective and efficient use of resources, and greatly improve the quality of behavioral health care in our community,” she said.

Malik said the program has been in the works for two years and said cities across the country are also using intervention tactics when police are called.

The program’s effectiveness in Akron will be analyzed the first three months to see how often the team is used and how it has helped.

Malik said he was excited for the program because he saw the need for a mental health response team after witnessing a man in crisis in the city last year.

“He laid down in the middle of Market Street in the middle of the afternoon,” Malik said. “He was screaming to himself. In that moment, I did not feel like he was a threat to me but could be to himself. In that moment, our option was to do nothing or call police. While that was a suitable response, there is a better response.”

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