Two Barron County departments will cooperate in a pilot program designed to help defuse “crisis situations” such as drug addiction and suicide attempts, according to information shared with the Barron County Health and Human Services Board at its regular monthly meeting Monday, May 23, 2022, at the County Government Center.

According to DHHS Director Stacey Frolik, the program will allow a psychologist to accompany deputies who respond to crisis calls.

The hope is that the deputy and “co-responder” can assess the situation and “respond correctly to what is happening,” Frolik told the board.

The pilot program will also help the county to establish relationships with the patients and/or their families, connect them with appropriate services, and, hopefully, reduce time and expense for the Sheriff’s Department, she added.

Frolik told the board that the Sheriff’s Department spends many hours in emergency rooms, connecting with mental health agencies, devising safety plans for patients, or transporting patients to other facilities throughout the state for emergency detentions.

She said that if it’s determined that the people involved in the calls aren’t a danger to themselves or others, the “co-responder” could help “curate safety plans and (connect patients with) follow-up services available to (patients) in their own communities.”

We find that crisis calls include quick responses, but the next day, we sometimes have a hard time following up,” Frolik added.

“If we haven’t established a relationship with (the patients) as yet, it can be intimidating for them (to meet county HHS workers),” she added.

The “co-responder” was hired a month ago and has been in training until this week, Frolik said. The program is being paid for through the county’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse federal block grant, she added.

Supervisor (and board chair) Karolyn Bartlett, Dist. 5, town and village of Dallas and town of Maple Grove, asked Frolik if the program has a set of goals and outcomes.

“Are there certain measures you will look at to ascertain if (the program) is a success?” she asked.

Frolik said one measuring stick is lessening the number of emergency detentions for people in crisis, as well as establishing and maintaining relationships with them.

Cutting down on repeat crisis incidents is another goal, she added.

Supervisor Diane Vaughn, Dist. 2, towns of Dovre, Sioux Creek and Dallas, and village of New Auburn, asked about the co-responder’s work hours.

Frolik said that for now, the HHS specialist will work a five-day week during the afternoon and evening hours, when the Sheriff’s Department normally experiences the bulk of its crisis calls.

“We know we won’t hit 100 percent (of the crisis calls), but a pilot program needs a solid, logical starting point,” she said.

Supervisor John Banks, Dist. 3, city of Chetek, asked where the specialist will work.

Frolik said the co-responder will be at the Sheriff’s Department and available to go out on calls, but will continue to be supervised by the Health and Human Services Department.

Based on how the program works over the next 10 months, the DHHS is thinking of approaching local Barron County law enforcement departments with the same idea, Frolik added.