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Posted on: April 29, 2021

Mayor Lee Harris’ update on Removing Barriers to Mental Health Care for Shelby County Residents

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My administration’s work toward better mental health care outcomes for our community has taken another step forward.

On Monday the Shelby County Commission approved a contract with Alliance Healthcare Services, a mental healthcare provider, that allows Shelby County Fire Department personnel to bypass the emergency room for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

The new agreement instead authorizes those first responders to take that individual directly to a mental healthcare provider for care.

Once there, Alliance will provide voluntary services that include a 23-hour observation, an assessment to determine the level of care, and referrals to an appropriate level of mental health care. They will provide these services regardless of an individual’s insurance coverage or ability to pay.

Our administration has made it clear that mental health is just as important as physical health. This is another example of that.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began last year, there have been reports of increased mental health crises.

COVID-19 has brought with it social isolation, grief and anxiety, issues that can exacerbate previously diagnosed mental health disorders or bring undiagnosed disorders to the surface. During the pandemic, the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that 4 in 10 adults have reported symptoms of serious anxiety or depressive disorder, up from 1 in 10 adults in 2019.

At the same time, patient movement in and out of hospital emergency rooms has slowed significantly, in part because of coronavirus safety protocols. When patient processing takes longer, county first responders can’t leave and are delayed in answering other calls. This reform will help get them back on the street in a timely manner.

Also, while we are proud to be home to some of the best hospitals in the world, individuals experiencing mental distress do not need to sit in a waiting room, followed by a consultation with an ER doctor.

This is the latest in a slate of mental health care reforms from my administration that include free teletherapy sessions for all county employees, additional veterans’ services, and the expansion of our sick leave policy to include mental health care.

In addition, the county’s 911 dispatchers have all completed nationally recognized training that gives them the ability to handle a wide variety of mental health situations and help deescalate suicide calls.

Alliance Healthcare will in addition provide supplemental mental health first aid training to county fire personnel.

This new agreement received wide bipartisan support from the County Commission. I’d like to thank Commissioners David Bradford, Brandon Morrison, Michael Whaley, Mark Billingsley, Mickell Lowery, Tami Sawyer, Willie Brooks, Edmund Ford Jr., and Chairman Eddie S. Jones for their sponsorship. 

When Shelby County residents are in mental health crises, they don’t just need care, they need swift and appropriate mental health care.

We hope this new program helps residents access the help they need.


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