Hartford\’s crisis response team responded to over 900 calls in one year. Here\’s how it works

Tryan Ty Sampson gets emotional when he thinks of all the people in Hartford who have been helped by the city\’s civilian intervention team called HEARTeam, which responds to mental health emergencies instead of the police.

Sampson, who lost his brother to gun violence in the city when he was in his early 20s, became a community health worker with Team HEART to help save lives and help people get the right care and resources.

\”I\’ve lived in Hartford all my life,\” Sampson said as she fought back tears at a news conference in Hartford on Thursday. “These are people in my community, people I talk to, people I grew up with. I have yet to walk past someone who hasn\’t been through trials and tribulations and knows the right resources to turn to. So having something like this in my community means a lot.”

The HEARTeam, a coalition of the Capital Region Mental Health Center, Wheeler Clinic and Community Renewal Team, is marking the program\’s first year in the city, is made up of dozens of highly trained physicians, social workers, community health workers and peer responders

They are deployed in situations where non-law enforcement intervention may be most effective, including mental health crises and substance use. After receiving a 911 call, 911 responders assess the situation and dispatch HEARTeam responders to assist where they believe an individual may be more likely to benefit.

“While we are grateful for the work our police officers do, they are not always the right ones to respond to these situations. They are not always able to respond effectively to connect those individuals to the right resources,” said Mayor Luke Bronin. “So we spent many months with a team of stakeholders from across our community to design a civilian response system , to provide the kind of intervention and support that could make a difference for those people who receive it\”.

Each of the three partner organizations has a distinct responsibility within the HEARTeam, according to Bronin. The Capitol Region Mental Health Center serves as the state\’s provider of mobile adult crisis services and responds to adults in situations involving serious mental illness and major crisis intervention. The Community Renewal Team stands up for adults exhibiting less acute emotional distress with a focus on de-escalation and connection to services. Finally, the Wheeler Clinic responds to children and youth under 18 experiencing any behavioral health crisis.

Since the program\’s inception last year, HEARTeam has responded to over 900 calls requiring action. Of those return calls, 80 percent did not require additional first responder assistance from EMS, firefighters or police, according to Heidi Lubetkin, senior vice president of clinical services at CRT. The average response time for a HEARTeam worker on scene was 16 minutes.

“These calls represent a variety of reasons including mental health, substance use and welfare checks of people in need,” Lubetkin said.

Many of the calls HEARTeam answered included children and youth, with Wheeler physicians stepping in to offer behavioral and crisis services.

\”We had one case where a family called the Hartford Police Department about a child who was physically aggressive and they didn\’t know what to do,\” said Sabrina Trocchi, president and CEO of the Wheeler Clinic. “The police dispatched a HEART Team member to the scene and within less than 20 minutes the police realized our doctor was able to diffuse the situation and they were able to leave. But our work didn\’t end there, our doctor was able to stay on site for over two hours with the family, providing real-time family behavioral health intervention. When we left, the baby was in a good position. We were also able to provide the child with aftercare and make sure they connected to our long-term services.\”

Trocchi said Wheeler\’s doctors were able to divert children from the emergency room and juvenile justice system in 48 percent of the situations they were sent to.

Both Bronin and HEARTeam members and first responders said the program was a success and the city looks to continue and expand it in the coming years.

“In the near future, the HEARTeam will add to calls for us to respond including a new co-response to non-fatal overdoses. This new initiative will connect people with peers who have had similar experiences, help people connect to recovery support services, and help motivate people in the process of change,” Lubetkin said.

Stephen Underwood can be reached at sunderwood@courant.com

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