May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the City of Independence is marking the occasion by celebrating the success of the new Alternative Response for Community Health (ARCH) program. This program allows a trained paramedic and licensed clinical social worker to connect with individuals who may be in a mental health crisis rather than police or firefighters.
Between March 13 and May 5, 2023, the ARCH team responded to 297 incidents. Of these, 202 were emergency 9-1-1 responses, and 95 were follow-up visits to ensure community members were referred to the appropriate resources following a 9-1-1 interaction.
“ARCH provides independent crisis response alongside but separate from other emergency services,” Community Paramedic John Borel said. “This allows ARCH mental health providers the freedom to provide services, including transport, without occupying the time of or reducing the amount of available city response personnel.”
To further break down the impact of this program, responding to 202 emergency incidents ARCH optimized the use of public safety resources by preventing the dispatch or canceling the response of 89 police units, 68 fire apparatus, and 53 ambulances. It also reduced hospital emergency room demand by diverting 22 community members to another healthcare destination better suited for their immediate and specific needs.
“The impact of this program is very real,” Borel said. “Through ARCH, we initiated contact with a local houseless community member who has been the subject of over 100 9-1-1 calls in the last three years. We were able to coordinate with area agencies, healthcare providers, resources, and family members to facilitate connection with specific resources that met this individual’s unique medical and mental needs. And as a secondary benefit, it reduced the incidence of these 911 requests on Firefighters, Police Officers, and Paramedics.”
Mental health has been a significant community concern for residents of Independence appearing in budget surveys and ranking as a top concern in the recent community health survey results. This is the program’s second phase, which utilizes grant and city funds.
“We are looking outside of the box on ways to make this program successful in our community and appreciate the collaboration not only between the Fire and Health and Animal Services Departments but also Saint Louis University which utilized the program to train social work students,” Independence Health Director Christina Heinen said. “We are lucky to now have two full-time licensed clinical social workers, and we are looking toward additional funding to see this important program grow in our community.”