Mental health crisis intervention program saving lives, funds for Oregon city

Medic and crisis worker are the first on the scene of mental health calls

San Antonio – Damian Lamar Daniels, a combat veteran who did two tours in Afghanistan, had big dreams when he moved to San Antonio after being accepted to the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Those dreams died with him when he was shot and killed by a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputy on Aug. 25 when deputies responded to a call for mental distress. His family said he was experiencing paranoia and had been struggling over the recent deaths of loved ones.

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Law enforcement departments respond to thousands of similar calls each year. In Eugene, Oregon, a team consisting of a medic and a crisis worker are first on the scene of mental health calls.

“When there’s not a crime being committed, when there’s not a medical emergency, you know, why are we sending officers? Why are we sending paramedics? When somebody is in crisis, shouldn’t they get somebody whose trained and equipped to handle that crisis?” said Tim Black, consulting director of White Bird Clinic.

The program is called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS, and it provides mobile crisis intervention 24/7 in the Eugene-Springfield Metro Area.

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CAHOOTS’ calls come through Eugene’s 911 system or the police non-emergency number. Dispatchers are trained to recognize nonviolent situations with a behavioral health component. They then route mental health-related calls to CAHOOTS.

“We received an average of 60 to 70 calls for service per day,” Black said.

In 1989, the city of Eugene created a partnership with White Bird Clinic’s CAHOOTS program.

“As the state of Oregon and this country, quite frankly, continue to defund mental health treatment and mental health facilities and continue to defund addiction services, we saw a very a fairly sharp uptick in those issues in our community,” said Chris Skinner, Eugene police chief.

Skinner said sending the CAHOOTS team is the right response for these types of calls.

“When a police officer arrives on scene in uniform, it has a tendency to make people nervous and escalate, especially if you’re in a mental or an emotional crisis,” Skinner said.

The White Bird Clinic said the CAHOOTS team that responds is not armed and is a voluntary service. They do not respond to calls that would be unsafe, including violent scenes or scenes with weapons involved.

The program said it saved about $8 million in public safety funds and $14 million for ambulance and emergency room treatment annually.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said he supports implementing a similar program in Bexar County.

About the Authors:

Tiffany Huertas is known for her in-depth storytelling and her involvement with the community.

Steven Cavazos is a traffic anchor and general assignments reporter in the weekday mornings at KSAT 12.