The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office began working closely over the summer with the Buncombe County EMS Community Paramedic Program to develop a Co-Responder Unit that provides acute crisis intervention and follow-up resource navigation to community members experiencing behavioral health challenges. ?
This coordinated approach between the Community Paramedic program and the Sheriff’s Office aims to divert community members away from involvement with traditional public safety intervention and institutions. Instead, it utilizes trauma-informed public safety responses and connection to resources to mitigate further challenges.
During the summer’s pilot phase, the Co-Responder unit responded to 191 calls over a two-month period. No community members were arrested during these calls.
The Co-Responder Unit increases public safety, coordinates the approach, and defines root cause solutions by:
- Providing the appropriate response to community members who may be experiencing an overdose, mental health crisis, and/or substance use disorder
- Deploying licensed mental health professionals contracted by EMS and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office
- Answering calls for service and attempting to divert individuals from the criminal justice system and while creating a linkage to resources and care
“I’d first like to say how proud I am of the work that our crews have accomplished with this pilot program,” said Emergency Services Director Taylor Jones. “We have seen firsthand the positive effects that the program has had on our residents and visitors. This program is about linkage to care and at its core, meeting people where they are to deliver the right resources for them at the right time.”
Jones cited collaboration as the key to successfully serving the community: “The unity and teamwork shown between our departments is truly what sets this program apart from anything we’ve done previously. This program combines mental health, safety, and security and fosters a foundation of trust with public safety. We are able to treat our community members in crisis with the dignity and humanity that everyone is entitled to.”
“As I’ve said many times, we cannot arrest our way out of the issues of mental health, addiction and homelessness,” said Sheriff Quentin Miller. “I’m also excited about this partnership between EMS and the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office cannot do this alone. With our medication assisted treatment (MAT) drug treatment program in the jail, we have saved lives. This program gives us an opportunity to address people where they are and give them help using those same principles.”
“This co-responder unit is a coordinated response around mental health calls and substance abuse calls and welfare checks,” added Sgt. Bryan Freeborn of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. “Our goal is to reduce repeat overdoses, repeat Involuntary Commitments (IVCs), and ensure that folks that are experiencing acute mental health crises are receiving a safe and appropriate response that is going to address their immediate needs and steer them toward long term care.”
Recently, Dr. Shuchin Shukla joined Buncombe County as a Substance Use Disorder Medical Consultant. He echoed the importance of coordinated care and response: “This new program demonstrates that steps are being taken to establish a coordinated response that will benefit health outcomes for our community members. People who are unhoused and having a mental health crisis or have substance use issues need a clinical response. That’s what will improve their lives, their employment prospects, their ability to move into housing.”
If you or a loved one are experiencing substance use disorder or need additional mental health supports, help is closer than you think. Go to www.buncombecounty.org/safer to learn more.