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Johns Hopkins University to Launch Behavioral Health Crisis Response Initiative

Effort pairs mental health clinicians with campus safety and security officers
responding to behavioral health crises

May 18, 2021
Karen Lancaster
Cell: 240-370-9319
klancaster@jhu.edu  or jhunews@jhu.edu

Johns Hopkins University today announced plans to develop a Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team to serve students, faculty, staff, and community members experiencing a behavioral health crisis on or near its Baltimore campuses. This pilot program will launch in the fall of 2021, first around Homewood and then expanding to the university’s other Baltimore campuses. The approach addresses the growing need for innovative public health responses to behavioral and mental health crises and is modeled after best practices for public safety operations.

The Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team will offer a range of services, including a 24/7 in-house mobile crisis team for people in need of immediate assistance while experiencing behavioral health crises. In addition to 24/7 immediate crisis response, BHCST clinicians will also offer short-term mental health support and resources after an incident to ensure the individual has access to continuation of care. The co-responder approach, pairing behavioral health specialists with public safety personnel, has been proven successful in a number of cities around the country, and is growing in interest among higher education institutions.

“It became clear that many of the calls being addressed by Campus Safety and Security could be more effectively and appropriately handled by behavioral health clinicians,” JHU President Ronald J. Daniels, Kevin Shollenberger, and Connor Scott said in a message to the Hopkins community. “Put simply, it was time for a new approach…The BHCST will provide immediate assistance to those who need it and, just as importantly, link individuals in crisis to ongoing university support services in the days and weeks that follow.”

A key component of this effort will be a partnership with Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. (BCRI), an established community organization with significant experience helping individuals in crisis. BCRI will be supporting JHU in providing quality mental health crisis assistance for our Baltimore neighbors, leveraging their unique position as an unparalleled leader in providing robust and effective behavioral health crisis care throughout the city of Baltimore.

“Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. (BCRI) is pleased to partner with Johns Hopkins University to provide behavioral health crisis services and support the work of campus security officers,” said Edgar Wiggins, Executive Director of BCRI. “We have provided training to officers to enhance their skills when responding to people in distress. In addition to continuing the training we will also have mental health professionals available to respond to campus locations as necessary. This is a great opportunity to provide necessary crisis support at the community level.”

The university plans to launch this pilot program this fall, following robust and thoughtful engagement with Hopkins affiliates and the broader community over the past several months.

The concept emerged from ongoing conversations with affiliates and neighbors revealing a common desire to augment the university’s response to calls for help in acute mental health situations. This feedback was also reflected in a 2018 report by the university’s Task Force on Student Health and Well-being, which called for a comprehensive assessment of the university’s response to behavioral crises.

The university has enlisted Dr. Ronald Means, a nationally recognized child/adolescent, adult, and forensic psychiatrist who is familiar with effective behavioral crisis response in Baltimore, to help create and implement the program. As the Chief Medical Officer of Catholic Charities of Baltimore – Family Services Division, Means oversees the Baltimore Child & Adolescent Response System, a crisis program serving Baltimore’s youth. Since late 2020, Means has conducted extensive benchmarking and an analysis of gaps in JHU’s existing behavioral health service delivery system to help frame the scope of the program.

Means’ work will also inform an advisory committee made up of faculty, staff, students, and community members.

“Developing alternative models of responding is essential,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. “Thank you to Johns Hopkins University for contributing to our understanding of what is possible. If we’re going to develop alternatives to policing and reimagine public safety, everyone must contribute.” Baltimore City is piloting a program for alternative public safety responses by diverting 911 calls for mental health crises to social workers and clinicians instead of law enforcement.

Over the last several months, the university has engaged more than 250 people, representing over 70 community organizations near the Homewood, Peabody, and East Baltimore campuses and from their surrounding neighborhoods. More than 15 small group listening sessions were held with student leaders, community and neighborhood advocates, and faculty/staff groups including University Health Services, the Black Faculty & Staff Association, the Counseling Center, the Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program, Diversity Leadership Council, and Student Affairs.

Feedback has also been solicited from local behavioral health providers, LGBTQ advocates, elected officials, community organizations, and other stakeholders, sparking discussions that will help shape and refine the program this summer.


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