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St. Joseph County Faith Leaders Call For Stronger Mental Health Response System

Gemma DiCarlo / WVPE Public Radio

Currently, someone in the midst of a mental health crisis in St. Joseph County has few options but to go to an emergency room or call 911, which local faith leaders say is an "incomplete" response.

“Our county jail is still the de-facto detox center and the first provider of mental health services for many,” Beacon Resource Center Executive Director Jeff Walker said.


At a public town hall on Sunday, leaders with the local chapter of Faith in Indiana called for county officials to commit 10 percent of the approximately $125 million the county will receive from the American Rescue Plan to a more complete crisis response system.


That system involves two initiatives: first, a mobile team of trained clinicians and EMTs to respond to mental health calls 24/7; and, second, a crisis response center to stabilize those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues and connect them to support services. 


Riverside Church Pastor Keith Walatka said he’s called 911 six times over the last two years for a family member in crisis. He said he “can’t help but think” how those situations would have been different if a crisis team was sent “either along with police officers or in lieu of police officers.” 


“They were very professional, they were responsive and they were helpful,” Walatka said. “But they were not equipped for the mental health situation. They even said that themselves.” 


Sheriff Bill Redman said with the rise in mental health and substance abuse calls over the last year, he supports initiatives that will help take those pressures off of law enforcement.


“Our officers are dealing with those types of situations every single day, and it has gotten nothing but worse as a result of the pandemic,” he said.

Several other county leaders, including South Bend Mayor James Mueller, County Health Officer Dr. Bob Einterz and Oaklawn CEO Laurie Nafziger expressed their support for a more comprehensive mental health response system.

County Board of Commissioners President Andy Kostielney said the county would commit funding from the American Rescue Plan to support crisis response efforts. 

“We’ve not played as active a role as we should have and that we’re going to in these issues,” Kostielney said. “So I’m committing a part of our recovery funding to go toward not only access to housing and homelessness, but also anything we can do to support the health department and the sheriff for mobile crisis intervention.”

The county has yet to decide on how it will officially allocate American Rescue Plan funding, but faith leaders said they hope to see a plan for a crisis response system by the end of the year. 

Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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Gemma DiCarlo came to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.