Give the MOST to mental health care

Here's a bit more about the Mobile Outreach Safety Team:

Reno Police Officer Darryl Plumb’s radar was up. It was just a few weeks after the tragedy of Sandy Hook and the bulletin about “a person of concern” from Fremont, Calif., armed and potentially suicidal in downtown Reno, was downright scary. The officer discovered the person had checked into a hotel under his real name. Plumb quickly located the room and knocked on the door.

The “eerily calm” man in his 20s admitted to having a gun in his possession. He consented to a search of his vehicle and accompanied Plumb to the parking garage where nine more firearms were located, along with a tactical vest and 4,000 rounds of ammunition. He was cooperative and respectful but admitted to suicidal ideation as well as thoughts of killing his parents to spare them the shame of a dishonorable son.

The young man was placed on an emergency Legal 2000 hold and admitted to a local psychiatric hospital. His family and the Fremont police were notified while RPD took the guns and ammunition for safekeeping.

Officer Travis Warren from MOST (Mobile Outreach Safety Team) was called in to monitor the situation and coordinate with the Fremont police to ensure public safety. Warren enlisted the services of a MOST mental health partner, psychiatric social worker Jim Kilgore, to meet with the patient, family members and law enforcement to determine how to keep everyone safe and the weapons locked away. After several weeks, the young man was discharged to his parents’ care through a partial hospitalization program in California and willingly signed the firearms over to the Fremont police.

Commendations from the chief were issued to Plumb and MOST for their exemplary work in preventing a Reno tragedy. The patient thought highly enough of MOST to send a letter recounting his experience as an “instance where good will triumphs over despair and hopelessness. … Their professionalism and fervor in helping their fellow man is highly encouraging. Their spirit is worthy of emulation. Their continued actions are the untold stories that show there’s still good in the world. I should know. I used to be misanthropic.”

Warren modestly described the event to me as “good police work,” crediting Plumb’s determination in tracking down the suicidal subject as the key to the successful intervention.

Meanwhile, amid much hand-wringing, Nevada’s mental health system has been front-page news lately due to the patient-dumping scandal uncovered by the Sacramento Bee after a severely mentally ill man was discharged to the Greyhound bus station in Las Vegas and provided snacks and a ticket to Sacramento. He reportedly had never been to Sacramento and had no friends, family or treatment agency awaiting his arrival.

Since that initial story, Nevada has been ridiculed by Stephen Colbert, (“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas unless what happens is psychosis”), and threatened with multiple lawsuits. Staffers have been disciplined and fired. Policies have been changed. Editorials have been written. Gov. Brian Sandoval, after a slow start in publicly recognizing the problem, called for outside reviewers to recommend best practices and vowed to fix the problem.

Back in Reno, MOST, a state-funded program that barely survived the budget cuts during the recession, works with unstable and suicidal people every day, using a law enforcement/mental health approach to resolve potentially dangerous situations and get people the help they need. It started as a pilot program in 2009 and costs the taxpayers about $150,000 per year.

The Legislature has choices to make. It can allocate $35 million a year in tax credits, for example, to Nicolas Cage’s filmmakers, a subsidy that hasn’t worked elsewhere, or it could invest that money to create MOST and other innovative mental health programs in Las Vegas.

I think the choice is pretty clear.