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Carroll University & the City of Waukesha partner to form Behavioral Health Responder training program

Carroll University
Photo courtesy of Carroll University
Carroll University’s School of Education and Humans Services is partnering with the City of Waukesha to develop and soon launch a new Behavioral Health Responder (BHR) Training Curriculum.

Carroll University’s School of Education and Humans Services is partnering with the City of Waukesha to develop and soon launch a new Behavioral Health Responder (BHR) Training Curriculum. The City of Waukesha Finance Committee has approved the contract for the BHR program and it is currently awaiting full council approval.

A BHR is someone who is trained in the areas of mental and behavioral health and in de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques, according to Jessica Lahner, the director of the Behavioral Health Psychology Program at Carroll University, who helped shape the training and partnership with the City of Waukesha.

A BHR would respond directly to 911 calls that are deemed to be behavioral or mental health in nature, and while a law enforcement officer may accompany them, law enforcement would not be the first person to respond to these calls.

"Police departments around the country are recognizing that behavioral and mental health needs require a different response than your traditional criminal-oriented call," notes Lahner. "And sometimes when law enforcement responds to those calls, they end up in emergency detention situations or use of force, and maybe that wasn't necessary."

She says that part of the traction in these types of programs across the country is the new collective awareness that mental and behavioral health incidents are on the rise.

"They were always an issue and we needed to respond better, but if you think about some of the silver linings of the pandemic, I think one of them is that we are more aware of the mental health needs of the community now more than we ever were," Lahner notes.

Some police departments hire social workers or licensed professional counselors who have the training or transferable skills to utilize in the field. However, Lahner says these workers are needed for all types of work and aren't as readily available. She says the level of entry will make the BHR program at Carroll different.

"We're developing a training program that you don't need a Masters degree to pursue, and so in that sense, it really increases the access to care for the community," says Lahner.

She notes that law enforcement departments that have BHRs have proven to be beneficial with increases in voluntary treatment versus involuntary detainment, a decrease in the use of force, and a decrease in repeat calls — all freeing up community resources.

Carroll's BHR program will also be modeled on a case-management approach, which is something that a traditional police department doesn't have the bandwidth to do according to Lahner.

"The Behavioral Health Responder is positioned to assess the situation, determine the type of intervention and resources that are most appropriate for the resident, and then they’re positioned to facilitate that warm hand off to the appropriate resources or community organization[s], and then to follow-up," she explains.

Even though the BHR program is currently in its stages of development, Lahner says the training will include crisis intervention, de-escalation training, suicide prevention and risk assessment, a focus on trauma informed care, psychology oriented education, and an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion in the mental health system, and professional sustainability.

"It creates a pipeline of trained professionals, not just for the City of Waukesha, but for anyone in the state, and it's not even limited to law enforcement," she notes. "There's a lot of people who work who are in direct contact with folks who are in mental health or behavioral health crisis who really could benefit from this sort of training in order to do their jobs more effectively and serve the public."

Editor's note: On Tuesday Sept. 7, 2022, the Waukesha Common Council unanimously passed the Behavioral Health Responder (BHR) contract between the City of Waukesha and Carroll University.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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