A more kind and effective approach to help troubled people reclaim their lives…while riding a Comet!!
Behavioral Health and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office team up
The Lincoln County Mobile Outreach Team is about to start connecting with people having a hard time – often on the streets – people who need helping hands and nurturing hearts to get them back to enjoying the lives they were always meant to live.
An outreach team that pairs a mental health counselor with a sheriff’s deputy hit the streets of Lincoln County in March to bring help, health and healing to those suffering from too much “street-life disorders.” The team’s mission is to help people on the verge of, or in the middle of, a crisis and to channel those troubled individuals toward help before they land in jail or in a hospital emergency room. These community intervenors are known as Community Comets – the mission of the Community Outreach and Mental Health Enhancement Team (COMET).
Jointly formed by the Behavioral Health Department of the Lincoln Community Health Center (LCHC) and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, this mobile response team will meet with clients in the field to make referrals and connect vulnerable people with services.
“It could be that someone calls law enforcement because of a person yelling and talking to themselves in a public place. Maybe a person is off medications and so they’re not functioning well enough to call for help on their own. This team can reach out to people like that, help them feel safe, and refer them to primary care services and other assistance,” explained Sheryl Fisher, director of Behavioral Health at LCHC. Pairing these initial contacts with follow-up care will help prevent future crises.
The demand for this unique style of service is overwhelming. Sheriff’s Lt. Adam Shanks has been in law enforcement for 23 years and he says the eruption of increased calls for help have been rising and accelerating.
“In my early days, the calls for service were mostly tagged as a suspicious person or a suspicious activity. Most calls now are related to an emotionally-disturbed person and those calls have increased dramatically over my career,” he said, noting that they can often be tied to substance abuse which triggers a wide array of mental health disorders. “We realized we needed to address this at the local level and do what we can to have a positive impact on people in need,” the lieutenant said.
COMET is staffed by Clinical Counselor Liz Scott and Deputy Siscilee Gouge in the mobile unit, with Community Health Worker Ellen Wenzel providing follow-up support.
Gouge, a Lincoln City native, with more than seven years of law enforcement experience, has consistently gone above and beyond to compassionately counsel people, including carrying extra necessities in her patrol car to share with those in need. With the formation of the mobile outreach unit, she’ll now spend her time helping people overcome the barriers between themselves and the good life that awaits them.
“Often we see red flags thrown up, but as a patrol deputy, you don’t have enough time to deal with issues that often do not constitute a criminal act. That all changes under the auspices of COMET. “We should get to troubled people before they hurt somebody or themselves,” Gouge noted. Liz Scott, a licensed professional mental health and certified drug and alcohol counselor, is equally passionate about the new program She said saw a similar program work very well in Benton County. “I noticed that it made a huge difference in how quickly people could access services during a personal crisis,” she explained. “Once we started coordinating with law enforcement in Benton County, it just seemed to create a lot more effective collaboration.”
Scott and Gouge both express a love for the work they do, a disposition that is sure to benefit the entire community.
“As a crisis worker, we see people when they are having their worst day,” Scott said. “My favorite part of the job is working with people and the time I get to spend with helping them – giving them options. I just try to minimize the length of the crisis, get through it more quickly, and calmly help them recenter themselves – because many people suffer a mental health crisis at some point in their lives. When they don’t get the life-saving consolement from their families or other people they know, COMET personnel can guide them to intelligent and caring mental health professionals.
Her partner in the mobile unit shares a similar enthusiasm for helping people. “I’ve known since kindergarten that I wanted to be a law enforcement officer. I knew it’s my calling. This is how I’m changing the world and the perception of law enforcement. So many of us truly care and we work within the constructive boundaries we are given. When I see somebody in need, it’s obvious that I’m meant to be in that place,” Deputy Siscilee Gouge said.
Driving an unmarked vehicle and dressed in a casual manner will be the “uniforms” for Gouge and Scott, since the goal is to put people in need at ease. This dynamic duo will also be meeting with local social service organizations, law enforcement agencies and support service providers to familiarize themselves with COMET and the vital mission they pursue everyday.
“We want them to drive the county and start making connections with people who appear to be in need. We also want them to connect to services and let them know we are up and running. Our overarching role is to help people and that starts by building trust,” Fisher noted.
While the Sheriff’s Office was able to assign a deputy to this role, LCHC applied for and received an Integrated Behavioral Health Services Supplemental Funding grant (HRSA-19-100) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).