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Southwest Texas Agencies Working To Improve Mental Health Services

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
STRAC Executive Director Eric Epley speaks at a news conference announcing the launch of the Southwest Texas Crisis Collaborative.

A group of local police, emergency medical technicians, hospitals, homeless service groups and others are launching the Southwest Texas Crisis Collaborative.

The collaborative is being organized under the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council with the goal of forming a stronger network to help homeless people and others in a state of mental distress using services that are in existence, officials said.

“All of this is really connecting the dots that are already here — in some cases with some new technology .... and making them work together in a way that is efficacious for the patient,” STRAC Executive Director Eric Epley said.

Some of the partners include: San Antonio Police, San Antonio Fire Department, Bexar County, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, University Health System, Haven for Hope and San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital.

In the past, when SAPD encountered someone who needed psychiatric attention, the officer had to call treatment facilities individually, according to San Antonio Police Chief William McManus. Under the new collaborative, an officer calls a center known as MEDCOM to find treatment.

“This program saves officer's time and effort trying to find a place — the right facility — for treatment for them, and because of that they’re able to spend more time on the street,” McManus said.

The idea for the collaborative began forming after a series of studies in 2015 showed only half of the 9,000 cases of emergency detention of psychiatric patients in San Antonio needed actual emergency care, a news release from STRAC said. The others needed psychiatric assistance.

The goal is to not only get individuals needing mental health assistance help but to reduce the strain on first responders.

“We spend a lot of time sending resources to behavioral health issues — sometimes issues that can be taken care of in a clinic — versus transporting someone to the hospital,” San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said.  

Hood said the homeless assistance shelter Haven for Hope receives a high number of EMS calls. As part of the collaborative, SAFD will have a paramedic on site from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to help with emergency calls for residents.

“By having a paramedic at Haven, they can look at the person — they can screen them. If it’s a true medical emergency, we can provide transportation,” he said. “But if it’s not, we can either send them to the hospital via taxi — we can arrange for them to have a clinic visit in the morning — ... that keeps our units in service for a house fire or a medical call versus running over there.”

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules


Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules