Training begins for Bexar County’s new mental health program

Bexar County allocates $1.5 million to establish a mental health program

Man says National Alliance on Mental Illness San Antonio saved his family

SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County is developing a new mental health program following Damian Daniel’s death.

The combat veteran was shot and killed by a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputy on Aug. 25. The call was dispatched as a mental health call.

“Judge Wolff had approached our department, after the tragic death of Mr. Daniels on the circumstances of what could be done to give the deputies the ability to have a mental health person go out and respond rather than a deputy on some of these circumstances to prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening,” said Mike Lozito, director for the Office of Criminal Justice Bexar County.

The Office of Criminal Justice is partnering with STRAC, Center for Health Care Services, Acadian Ambulance and the Bexar County’s Sheriff’s Office.

Dispatchers will be on the front lines of identifying mental health calls and making sure those are routed to the new unit.

“The pilot program is a way to offer an alternative response model to low level, nonviolent mental health-related 911 calls. The goal being to be able to provide a clinician and a trained paramedic at the initial time of the call,” said Sarah Hogan, division director for Southwest Texas Crisis Collaborative at STRAC.

A deputy will only respond to the scene if they’re needed.

STRAC will keep track of how the program is doing.

“People in mental health crisis are at their most vulnerable state at the time of that 911 call and for our community to be able to respond in the most compassionate way means a great deal," Hogan said. “So I’m excited to be a part of it.”

The county allocated $1.5 million dollars for the program.

“It covers the mental health clinicians on there. It covers the emergency technicians on their supplies, equipment, vehicles,” Lozito said.

Training started this week for those involved in the new program.

“I think it’s going to change the way that we provide access to people in need,” Hogan said.

Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Antonio, or NAMI, will also give input on the new program.

Doug Beach said NAMI changed his family’s life.

“When we really came to understand that one of our family members had a mental health issue, NAMI was someplace we could go for information,” Beach said.

Beach is now the board president for NAMI San Antonio and helps teach family classes and leads a family support group.

“When we got engaged with NAMI, started taking classes, meeting other families who were in a similar circumstance. You know, it all of a sudden, it gave us a lot of hope that, you know, there was something that could be done and that there could be a good outcome, and that we weren’t alone,” Beach said.

The program is set to start on Oct. 1.

About the Authors:

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

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.