It was the evening of Nov. 14, 2012, and a 47-year-old wheelchair-bound grandmother was hit by a vehicle on Covington Highway. Reportedly her 3-year-old granddaughter was riding on the rear of the chair as they crossed the street.
The first police car to respond to the accident just happened to be driving by. It was the Mobile Crisis Unit, a partnership between the DeKalb Police Department and the DeKalb Community Service Board.
“We pulled up first on [the] accident on Covington highway,” said Vicki Jacobs, one of two registered nurses with the Mobile Crisis Unit. “The grandmother was in a wheelchair. You couldn’t even tell her wheelchair was a wheelchair.”
Jacobs said she immediately started addressing the grandmother’s injuries. “Then somebody said, ‘What about the baby?’” Jacobs said.
The child died at the scene and the grandmother died Dec. 1.
“It’s hard,” Jacobs said.
Initiated in 1994, the Mobile Crisis Unit teams a registered nurse with a police officer to respond to crises involving mental health, substance abuse, suicides, domestic violence and events “where people are so upset the police can’t handle them—where children have drowned or been hit by cars,” Jacobs said.
“The Mobile Crisis Unit is really the only one of its kind in the nation that we know of where there is a seasoned psychiatric nurse who rides with a police officer seven days a week,” said Brenda Cibulas, chief clinical officer, with the DeKalb Community Service Board.
“The reason that this model is so efficient is because you have the psychiatric knowledge on board, you have the medical knowledge on board, you have the public safety knowledge on board and because of its configuration. That unit can really effectively respond to serious community concerns and crises,” Cibulas said.
“Right there in the house, on the road, in the woods—wherever [the crisis] is happening, they’re able to assess it for needs, for danger, for whatever is necessary and because they have all these resources…they’re able to act very expediently,” Cibulas said.
The unit handles approximately 200 calls per month from E911, the DeKalb County crisis line, Georgia Crisis & Access Line and referrals from various private providers and clinics.
Cibulas said the unit is able to keep approximately 90 percent of the people with mental issues in the community and out of emergency rooms and jails.
“The police are given more options on what to do,” Cibulas said. “If somebody is really ill or in need of care…and maybe their behavior would cause them to be taken to jail, the police are sensitized and knowledgeable about the fact, with our nurse, that this really an illness. Those people are not taken to jail, so there’s less incarceration of people who are ill.”
Jacobs said, “We try our best not to have to take them anywhere, not to remove them from the home. We try to resolve the crisis for safety then and try to get them connected with services as soon as we can. We try to get them into care without hospitalization.”
Some of the calls the unit receives are for “people with chronic mental illness who are off their medicines—that’s a big one for us—and people who have never been diagnosed,” Jacobs said.
“We’re kind of like detectives,” Jacobs said. “We get called out because someone’s acting funny. This is the importance of having a nurse on the unit when that happens because somebody might have a blood sugar that’s over 500. The police or EMS just think they’re acting weird.”
Cibulas said, “Every single neighborhood has families and individuals who are in need. Lots of times, that is only noticed when they rise to the situation to some type of a public infraction.
“If we can support the police by opening up options and choices then we see better outcomes for families, for care providers and for our DeKalb police officers as well as area emergency rooms,” Cibulas said.