Assembly expands mental health services in Anchorage

By Austin Quinn-Davidson, Meg Zaletel and Forrest Dunbar

Update: 1 One hour before Published: 1 One hour before

From July, the municipality’s Mobile Crisis Team (MCT), also known as Mental Health First Responders, will begin operating 24/7, dramatically increasing coverage from 10 hours a day. current. The Mobile Crisis Team is an Anchorage Fire Department program that pairs a paramedic with a mental health clinician to respond to mental health crises. The MCT defuses crises and connects people to the community services they need, while relieving the Anchorage Police Department, which is no longer responsible for responding to mental health incidents unless specifically needed, and without increase property taxes. We led the recent effort to increase funding for this program and thank our colleagues for overriding Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto to this funding.

This innovative program began last June after several years of work by the Anchorage Assembly and the Berkowitz and Quinn-Davidson administrations to study MCT models across the country, coordinate with community partners, and establish funding through of the new alcohol tax. This expansion of the Mobile Crisis Team will fill a vital need in our public safety net and is another step in Anchorage’s implementation of Crisis Now – a nationally recognized model for delivering healthcare. crisis behavior – which has long been a goal of the mental health community. The Crisis Now model contains three key elements: a call center which is the first point of contact for people in crisis; mobile crisis teams to respond to crises; and short-term stabilization centers where people in mental health crisis can go. Programs using this model prevent suicide, provide the best supports for people in crisis, reduce unnecessary stress in emergency rooms and correctional facilities, and free up our police and fire teams to focus on other public safety needs.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the Alaska State Department of Health and Human Services have worked for several years to establish Crisis Now statewide and expand the mobile team Anchorage’s 24/7 crisis response is a big step toward achieving that goal. The 24/7 mobile crisis team will complement the private and nonprofit stabilization services that will come online later this year and next, bringing Anchorage one step closer to a comprehensive response system. behavioral health crises.

Expanding this successful program is a win-win situation for our community and a good financial investment. The Anchorage Fire Department has already laid the groundwork to bill Medicaid for this program, but Medicaid requires it to be offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Effective July 1, Medicaid will reimburse nearly 25% spending, providing increased value for our city’s investment. In total, the program will cost the city $2.5 million per year and is fully covered by the liquor tax, providing an excellent return on investment and allowing for more efficient use of property tax funds for d other public security services.

The MCT delivers real and meaningful results. In a first case reported in the Anchorage Daily News, a man who visited the ER about 70 times a year was able to go months without needing an ER visit after receiving mental health services from the ‘AFD. Having the MCT specifically available to respond to mental health crises means that AFD is also better able to focus its responses on urgent physical crises, such as heart attacks.

The Anchorage Assembly was able to add this service expansion due to increased liquor tax revenue. We have a vision for the future where all residents are safe and healthy, and we are committed to using municipal resources wisely to bring maximum benefit to the community.

If you or a loved one needs the services of the Mobile Crisis Team, please call 311. If it is an emergency, call 911 and ask for the Mobile Crisis Team.

Austin Quinn-Davidson, Meg Zaletel and Forrest Dunbar are members of the Anchorage Assembly.

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Richard F. Gandhi