Forum covers how Carson City treats serious mental health issues

Collaboration is the key to addressing serious mental health issues in Carson City.

That was the essential message of four speakers at the Sierra Nevada Forum event, “The Intercept of Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System,” held Tuesday at the Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall.

Sheriff Ken Furlong said until a decade ago law enforcement treated calls involving individuals with mental health problems like it did other emergency calls.

“We didn’t know any better. Then we retrained our officers to better recognize crisis and to respond better. Crisis intervention training became our mainstay,” said Furlong. “Then we had the unfortunate incident at IHOP.”

On Sept. 6, 2011, a man armed with an AK-47 rifle shot and injured seven people, killing four and then himself inside the IHOP restaurant on South Carson Street.

“Had the family known what resources were available, had those resources been coordinated, this might never have occurred,” said Furlong.

Today, the sheriff’s office has several programs in place, including the Forensic Assessment Services Triage Team, or FASTT, and the Mobile Outreach Safety Team, or MOST.

Dr. Joseph McEllistrem, forensic psychologist, talked about the importance of a coordinated response by highlighting the case of Jane Doe, a so-called super utilizer who was arrested 58 times between 2002-2015. McEllistrem described incidents involving Doe that involved public drunkenness, throwing food in restaurants, being found unconscious on sidewalks and, eventually, hallucinations and dementia.

In 2013, McEllistrem and others invited organizations on the continuum of care to meet and launch a super utilizers group to address the problem of individuals with chronic problems that were taxing the system.

“Eighteen agencies showed up and they all knew Jane Doe,” said McEllistrem.

They worked together to address Doe’s case. McEllistrem volunteered to act as her temporary guardian, a representative from Carson Tahoe Health said the hospital would address her dementia, and someone from the state’s Aging and Disability Services Division committed to finding her a nursing home. Since 2015, Jane Doe hasn’t been arrested once or involved in any emergency calls.

“This is a person who everyone said we can’t do anything about and what they meant is we can’t do it alone,” said McEllistrem.

Another prime example of effective cooperation is Carson City’s Mental Health Court Program. Retired Justice of the Peace John Tatro helped establish the court, which usually carries a caseload of 35 individuals who have been arrested, diagnosed with mental illness, and have volunteered to be part of the program.

Tatro said the court meets weekly for half a day, starting with staff time when a group of people — judge, prosecutor, counselors, probation officers and others — discuss each case.

“If they’re going to slip or use or are heading into relapse or miss their medication, we’re going to pick it up quickly,” said Tatro. “That’s the secret to its success: having everyone at the table and dealing with the issue right then.”

Carson City efforts have put it at the forefront, said Jessica Flood, regional behavioral health coordinator for Carson City and Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral, and Storey counties.

“In 2015, when I came into my role, what Carson City was doing was incredible. Douglas, Lyon, Churchill, they all said we want what Carson City is doing,” said Flood. “Carson City is the leader of rural mental health.”


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