Arlington debuts an alterative to the ER for those experiencing a mental health crisis

Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey cuts the ribbon on the county’s new Crisis Intervention Center. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

Arlington County, Virginia, is set on improving its resources for those in a mental health crisis. County officials cut the ribbon on a new crisis center meant to reduce the role police and hospitals play in a mental health emergency.

If law enforcement is called to help in a mental health crisis, oftentimes there is nowhere for emergency responders to take a patient other than the hospital.

“You’re on a gurney, it’s cold, it is not trauma-informed. It’s really a stressful place to be under any circumstance. But imagine if you are hearing voices and you’re paranoid,” said Deborah Warren, the executive director of Arlington’s new Crisis Intervention Center.

It’s set up to house patients placed under an emergency custody order, offering them a quiet space to talk and de-escalate. It also features an in-house nurse to write prescriptions, if needed.

“We’re currently getting about 15 walk-ins a week or about 60 a month, and we expect that number to really skyrocket with 988 being marketed this summer,” Warren said during the ribbon cutting.

Referring to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, Warren expects the center will be in demand as more people learn of the resources available for those experiencing mental health emergencies. She thanked the dozens of county employees who saw the project through, despite being denied a state grant to get it off the ground.

“It shouldn’t be that families (or) individuals have to struggle with figuring out where to go. We are creating a space with the support that individuals need, so they can come here and get what they need, not divert them to the hospital,” said Warren.

Family and friends can also drop off patients, not just law enforcement, she noted.

“This is something that our community has to address in a way that is both compassionate, thoughtful, but also aggressively,” Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey said ahead of issuing a proclamation.

He proclaimed May as Mental Health Awareness Month in the county.

“[This] is about making sure we don’t continue the mistakes of the past, of thinking about mental health and behavioral disorders is something sort of to be hidden from public view, but that we achieve success when we embrace it, and bring all of our best to talking about it openly,” said Dorsey.

The center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is located near the county’s Health and Human Services department.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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