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County unveils crisis response initiative

Emily Wang / The SPOKE

By Emily Wang, Staff Reporter

To improve responses to housing and mental health crises, the Chester County Department of Human Services and board of commissioners opened the Human Needs Network in mid-April.

The county devised the idea in 2019 to improve information referral systems and better address mental health crises, beginning formal planning in 2021. Funded through American Rescue Plan Act grants, the network includes mobile resolution teams as well as walk-in crisis and local call centers.

The calling stations, based in West Chester’s Government Services Center, utilize the 988 national mental health and 211 state human services hotlines. The county created and staffed the facilities in conjunction with Holcomb Behavioral Health Systems, a branch of the organization Chimes. Counselors work at the mental health locations, providing support and connecting people to mental health nonprofits.

“We need someone on the phone who answers the phone quickly and then speaks to the person until their issue is resolved,” Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Josh Maxwell said. “Being able to control that phone system is really important.”

Call centers remotely dispatch street outreach or mobile crisis resolution teams to connect callers to housing services or mental health hospitals, respectively. Supervised by nonprofit Woods’ Legacy Treatment Services, the teams include two people: one clinician and one “peer,” someone who has previously gone through a crisis and can empathize with the caller.

“We need someone to actually take an action to help those folks because they most likely aren’t in a position to help themselves,” Maxwell said.

While the network has several long-term facilities, such as Haven Behavioral Hospital of West Chester, members are working to establish more short-term mental health inpatient facilities, as long-term facilities tend to be full.

“It’s a safe place to help the person to stabilize, get their feet under them and then figure out what the next appropriate resource for them is,” said Patrick Bokovitz, director of the Chester County Department of Human Services.

Call centers can also access technology that documents individuals and areas with a high frequency of calls. Additionally, facilities use an app that tracks the location of teams so that they can dispatch the one closest to the individual in crisis. It also documents the teams’ response times and if they used other resources, such as police intervention.

“I do know that what we’ve set in place, the technology, will help us understand the needs,” Bokovitz said. “It’ll give us a sense of the trends, and subsequently, more quickly plan for what the next step needs to be.”

Emily Wang can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Emily Wang
Emily Wang, Staff Reporter
Emily Wang is a freshman and Staff Reporter for The Spoke. She enjoys writing for the Sports and T/E Life sections. She also likes photographing sports games and covering other events. Outside of The Spoke, Emily enjoys eating food, reading and performing ballet.