Agreement signed for mental health co-responder

Andrea Rose and Shawn Hardy

Franklin County Commissioners approved an agreement Tuesday between the county and Keystone Rural Health for the mental health co-responder program for Greencastle, Waynesboro and Washington Township.

The co-responder will work with police and EMS in the three communities as needed.

"We'll be pairing up a mental health professional with law enforcement agencies," explained Steven Nevada, Franklin/Fulton Mental Health administrator. “Our goal is to eliminate that crisis situation ... we don't want (individuals with mental health issues) to end up in jail."

Nevada said the co-responder would not just respond to crisis calls, but would also check in with mental health patients periodically and engage in the communities on a variety of levels.

“They’re a lifeline,” Greencastle Police John Phillippy said last month when he introduced the initiative to borough council.

The co-responder will be able to help with issues such as domestic violence, people who are suicidal, drug overdoses and other crises.

“Maybe they just need someone to talk to rather than a run to the hospital,” Phillippy said at the April council meeting. “There’s always been a need. The more help we can get the more benefit we can be to the community.”

"Dealing with individuals who are challenged with mental health issues is often difficult for law enforcement," said Waynesboro Chief of Police Jim Sourbier IV. "Each different type of mental health issue requires a very specific and detailed knowledge of that particular issue in order to deal with them successfully.

"The benefit of having an individual who has the training, education and background to assist us when we deal with people who present these issues will significantly contribute to the successful outcome of the event,” Sourbier continued. “It is safer for the individual, it is safer for our officers and it's better for our community as a whole."

The cost of the program is $137,800, which will cover oversight, training, supervision and salary for the co-responder. It is funded by a Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency as part of a Mental Health and Justice Pretrial Initiative Grant and will be supervised by Keystone Rural Health. The co-responder officially begins work May 5, according to Nevada. Funding for the position goes through Dec. 31, 2018.

At Monday’s Greencastle Borough Council meeting, Councilman James Farley noted there is no obligation to continue the program beyond the two-year grant so there will be no additional costs the the borough.

In addition to the mental health co-responder program, Greencastle officers also got another tool for the toolbox, Chief John Phillippy reported this week.

They received training from Women in Need on how to assess threat levels and provide an appropriate response. Police in Waynesboro and Chambersburg are already working on the program with WIN and “we look forward to doing the same,” Phillippy said.