Franklin County Mental Health Co-responder/ Community Liaison Program
Through a Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) grant awarded in 2017, Franklin County piloted the innovative Mental Health Co-responder Program. Through this program, individuals identified as being in crisis are diverted from the criminal justice system and connected with community based supportive services and natural supports. When police are dispatched to an incident where the behavior does not escalate to the level of police officer custody, the mental health co-responder is called to begin a screening and risk assessment process to determine the needed level of care. In addition to helping reduce criminal justice system involvement for individuals who may be living with a mental illness, intellectual or developmental disability, autism, and or co-occurring disorder, the program has had the added benefit of helping to connect senior citizens with services.
“The biggest benefit of this program is that we meet people where they are and help them identify their needs. We are person-focused and not service-focused,” said Kay Martin, Keystone Mental Health Community Liaison/Co-responder who recounted a referral for a 92 year old woman who was showing increased confusion and paranoia. “When I got there, she told me that her aide had left and there were clothes in the washing machine. That was the only thing she could focus on—the clothes in the washing machine that will get moldy. So the first thing to do to help—I put the clothes in the dryer! It helped her to be able to focus on something else.”
Developed with a goal of responding to 80 individuals over a two year period, the demand for services doubled the two year projection in just 7 months. “We knew we needed the program, we just didn’t realize how much,” said Mrs. Seilhamer—a driving force behind Co-responder program development. “Local law enforcement embraced this program from the start. It wouldn’t be successful without them,” she said.
Piloted in the southern part of the county, the program has expanded to the Borough of Chambersburg through funding from the PA Department of Human Services – Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (DHS-OMHSAS). As expected, it is seeing success by 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.
In May 2018, Franklin County’s Co-responder program was recognized for a Justice Public Safety Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a model program.