Stepping Up Initiative becoming model for other counties

Pettis County works to stem mental health crisis

By Faith Bemiss - [email protected]

Since its inception in June 2015, the local Stepping Up Initiative has continued to make long and swift strides in treatment for those with mental health issues in Pettis County. That positive interagency teamwork and prompt progress is being noticed by several other counties in the area.

October’s meeting saw several visitors including Steve Jolly, coordinator of community outreach for senior mental health at Moberly Regional Medical Center.

Jolly said he is a liaison at the hospital but is also in charge of the Randolph County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).

“That’s why I wanted to attend to see what’s going on,” he said.

Jolly was invited to the meeting by Anna White, a community health liaison with Burrell Behavioral Health Care, based in Columbia. White is part of the local Stepping Up Initiative.

“Anna’s been helping me out, so I thought I’d attend a couple (meetings) here and there,” Jolly said. “I know Kirksville is doing (CIT) and I’d like to get up there. I’ve talked to the sheriff up there and it seems to be moving pretty well actually.”

Jolly said he originally came from Kansas City where they are heavily involved with the CIT program.

“They have CIT in place and it’s great,” he noted.

Also attending the October Stepping Up meeting were Saline County Deputies James Meyer and James Hannink and Benton County Deputy Sheriff Storm Walker and Chief Deputy Jeff Canfield.

“We formally set up the West Central Missouri CIT Council back in June in order to apply for the mini grant that was required,” Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said during the meeting. “That was initiated under our subcommittee. We had met a couple times, just Sedalia and Pettis County, and we thought we needed to extend that out.”

He noted that at the last CIT meeting they had representatives from Saline County, the Marshall Police Department, Sedalia, Pettis County, Benton County Sheriff’s Office and Benton County 911.

Bond also announced Walker was recently appointed as the chair of the West Central Missouri CIT Council. Walker noted he’d been involved with CIT for more than two years.

“I’m really excited to see it get started,” Walker said. “I hope we expand this through all the counties in the area. I think it’s very important. As you know, we estimate about a third, 25 to 33 percent, of all our activities involve people who have some level of mental health issue or substance abuse issue.

“Obviously, if we can figure out ways to get them out of our system and into an area where they have a better chance for recovery or a successful life it’s better for us,” he added.

Walker has been in law enforcement for 44 years, having served with the Kansas City Police Department for 30 years. He served 12 years as Cole Camp Chief of Police and for two and a half years at the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. Walker is also a hostage negotiator with the sheriff’s office.

“It’s my life’s mission … I love it,” he added. “I wouldn’t do anything else.”

During the meeting, the Pettis County Mental Health Court Program drawn up by Pettis County Associate Circuit Judge Paul Beard was approved. Beard read the components of the program to the group and discussed positive and negative aspects.

“Our committee’s assignment is to create a program or system where those who are suffering from mental illness can be diverted from the court system,” he noted. “We created a program that doesn’t involve the court system.”

He added that the program “addresses the reality of Pettis County” and it allows them to serve people who may have otherwise fallen through the cracks in a “court-run system.”

“Our program allows us to actually snag people in advance of getting to the court system,” Beard said.

The person is given the option of registering for the program instead of going to jail. The program can also “exist on its own,” Beard added.

Some of the negatives include some funding issues and “less power to compel.”

“When a mental health court is run by a judge … the people in the program come in once a week and they are reviewed about whether they’ve complied with the requirements or not,” Beard said. “If they’ve complied, they get a reward, if not the judge says ‘24 hours in jail.’

“So our program won’t have a hammer like that, but it will have a significant hammer,” he added. “Just not instantaneous.”

Those who don’t comply could be given community service or assigned extra months in the program.

JoAnn Martin, chair of the boundary spanner subcommittee, spoke about the assimilation of information turned in from a data survey she sent to the different agencies involved with Stepping Up. She addressed the basic areas of concerns for each agency and the mental health resources available.

Pettis County Sheriff’s Office Captain of Support Services Sam Hargrave reported on the jail services, telling the group he was working on communication glitches within the system.

Bond noted that at the September meeting bylaws for the Pettis County Mental Health Coalition were approved and he was approved as coalition chair. This month Ed Bestgen, administrator of the Probation and Parole District 29 Office, with the Missouri Department of Corrections, volunteered as vice-chair. He was approved. Bond tabled the selection of a secretary until the November meeting.
Pettis County works to stem mental health crisis

By Faith Bemiss

[email protected]

Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.

Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.

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