Mental health co-responder program earns national award

Shawn Hardy

Franklin County has received a Justice Public Safety Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties for the South County Mental Health Co-Responder Program in the category of Criminal Justice and Public Safety. The award honors innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents.

Kay Martin, Keystone Health mental health community liaison and co-responder, works with the police departments in Greencastle, Waynesboro and Washington Township and helps connect individuals identified as being in crisis with community-based support services. In addition to helping reduce the number of people with mental health issues involved in the criminal justice system, the program has also helped connect a lot of senior citizens with services, according to a news release from county commissioners.

The mental health co-responder program is funded through a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. It has directly touched the lives of 200 Franklin County residents in the last year and Martin has had over 950 interactions with people in crisis.

“This collaboration between law enforcement and mental health has been the most productive and successful collaboration that I have seen in my career,” said Greencastle Police Chief John Phillippy.

"This is a program that has made our communities and our law enforcement personnel safer," he continued. "It has successfully placed mental health care into the community rather than the sterile environment of an office. It has brought care to our citizens who otherwise would not have received care."

During his report at the February borough council meeting, Phillippy talked about one co-responder incident involving a 16-year-old boy who drove here from out of state, checked into a motel and intended to kill himself over problems at school. He was reunited with his parents and began receiving treatment.

“A crisis program must be accessible to the community at all times and welcome anyone in need of services. Keystone’s partnership with law enforcement regarding individuals with mental illness has been a game changer as we have worked very closely with law enforcement to divert individuals with behavioral health needs into more appropriate treatment settings than the county jail,” said Joanne Cochran, president and CEO of Keystone Health.

Last week, Cori Seilhamer, Franklin County mental health program specialist, told commissioners that since April 2017, the co-responder program has diverted 34 people away from the criminal justice system.

“The mental health co-responder program is reducing the number of individuals involved in the criminal justice system and freeing up police to focus on the safety and security of the community," said Commissioner David Keller.

“This program saves tax dollars in many ways and I’m proud that Franklin County is a leader in justice, mental health, and drug and alcohol initiatives,” said Commissioner Bob Thomas.

NACo will recognize award-winning counties at its 2018 annual conference and exposition July 13 to 16 in Nashville/Davidson County, Tennessee.