Butler County closer to making mental health crisis center reality

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Mental health issues are top of mind in the wake of a tragic incident in Monroe last week in which a man who may have been having a manic episode was fatally shot by police.

Butler County officials say they are always looking for ways to help and the long awaited emergency stabilization center is getting closer to becoming a reality.

On Feb. 11, officers from the Monroe Police Department were involved in the shooting of Dustin Booth near the intersection of New Garver Road and State Route 63. Booth’s wife had called 911 earlier in the day saying she believed her husband was suffering from a mental health crisis.

According to a press release by the Monroe Police Department, Booth was armed and was not following police instructions.

“All indications from their efforts to communicate with him, along with information obtained at the scene, continued to lead officers to believe that he was experiencing a mental health crisis, that he was armed with a handgun, and that he had access to more weapons inside the home,” states a new release.

After looking at the release from Monroe that details the hours-long standoff, Scott Gehring, president, CEO at the Community Health Alliance, one of the county’s largest mental health and addiction providers, said “the situation is just really heartbreaking; it looks like everybody tried to do the right thing.”

In this particular incident, because violence was a factor, Scott Rasmus, executive director of the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board, said an emergency mental health crisis stabilization center probably would not have made a difference. But “we are constantly needs-assessing and planning for whatever eventualities may present themselves in the future regarding behavioral health.”

“When incidents happen like this we do sort of a gut-check, we review services that we have that may have interfaced with that situation and our partners including law enforcement,” Rasmus said. “We look at obviously how we can continue to improve to address situations like that better.”

What a mental health crisis stabilization center would mean for this region

Over the past several years there have been many conversations about creating an emergency mental health crisis stabilization center and what such a center would provide. Early on it was being called a “drop-off” center for homeless people who experienced a psychotic incident or caused a drug-induced disturbance so police wouldn’t have to take them to jail.

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More recently, although things are still very fluid, the definition has been expanded to a place where police and family members can take people with mental illness who are having an episode. It is designed to be a voluntary, relatively short-term stay facility where they can get people stabilized and hooked up to services.

Gehring said the Monroe incident “certainly defines the need for a crisis stabilization center and being able to handle those kinds of immediate mental health crises,” which could have helped before the incident escalated to the point he was a threat.

Officers, others receive training

The police release noted they brought in negotiators from the West Chester/Monroe Tactical Response Team, as well as the Crisis Response Team from Butler Behavioral Health Services. For years police departments across the county have been getting Crisis Intervention Team training for their officers to deal with situations like this.

Monroe Police Chief Bob Buchanan could not be reached for comment but several years ago said they have been sending officers to Warren County for CIT training since 2014.

“The Monroe Police Department has found the information and techniques learned in CIT training to be an invaluable part of our approach to identifying and helping those we come in contact with who are experiencing an mental health crisis,” Buchanan said, adding it has given them de-escalation techniques and “a network of resources and community partners to assist in obtaining help and services for the individual.”

Rasmus has convened several rounds of focus group meetings to vet the crisis center proposal. He said attendees are from a wide swath of the community including police, judges, clergy, doctors, elected officials — about 80 to100 all tolled.

They are honing in on being able to put out a request for proposals for the crisis center by the fall. They are hoping to get a slice of nearly $75 million in federal stimulus money the county received for it. They are still fine tuning the proposal but it is envisioned they will use a portion of the commissioners’ federal rescue funds for capital to either build or renovate an existing building — a portion of the county nursing home is a definite possibility. Rasmus said until they pick the best program model they won’t know capital costs but annually operating is estimated at $5 to $6 million.

“It always worries me when we do something and we ask everybody what they want, that worries me,” Commissioner Cindy Carpenter told Rasmus at a recent meeting. “I’d kind of be more comfortable if we say this is budget now what can we do with that. So have you established what a budget would be that you could sustain, instead of a dream, do we have what we know in reality we could get to support the facility.”

Rasmus said he believes about half the operating costs could be covered by Medicaid but the rest will likely rely on a new tax levy. He anticipates possibly asking voters to approve that measure in November 2023.

The commissioners must approve putting a levy on the ballot and Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News they are not there yet.

“Maybe it might be that way but look, this problem is going to have to be solved regionally, that means Hamilton, Middletown, anybody that has residents or people who are from that area are going to have to contribute to whatever we come up with,” Dixon said. “To say they’re going to need more money for a levy, I’m not there yet. I’m not settled in on the plan yet, but forget about that part. I’m nowhere near raising additional levy money.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he does favor creating the center because people suffering mental health crisis do not belong in the county jail, “that’s really not the place for them.”

The process has taken a very long time, talks started somewhere around 2015. Kathy Becker, who has spent her life helping the mentally ill and homeless, said it is good the county has not rushed to judgement on this project.

“I like the idea of gathering facts and information before just acting because if this isn’t done with thoughtfulness and research and it’s done wrong it can do more harm than good. Because it’s going to be very police-driven for them to take people to, if you assume this is what’s needed and that’s not what’s needed and we open this up and something bad happens they’re dead in the water,” Becker said.

“But by Scott pulling in police and other community members who deal with this a lot, he’s getting global feedback that to me leads to a more comprehensive appropriate crisis stabilization unit.”

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