Minnesota Hospital Association


January 16, 2019

Embedded social workers connect people in crisis with care

Police are called to a home where a teenage boy is described as being threatening and aggressive. Did the boy meet requirements to be taken to the hospital? In the past, police might have transported him just to be safe, in what could turn out to be an unnecessary and expensive ER visit. But now, when the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) responds to a mental health crisis, they get to bring along some extra expertise.

Regions Hospital and People Incorporated, a mental health services nonprofit, are each supplying a full-time social worker to the police department’s new Mental Health Unit to help connect people in crisis with the care they need and significantly reduce mental health crisis-related arrests and repeat calls for service.

“We’ll hook people up with case managers, community behavioral health hospitals, all kinds of different services,” said Kara Haroldson, the Regions social worker assigned full-time to the program.

The program was created after SPPD discovered that a high percentage of mental health calls resulted in officers bringing callers to the hospital emergency department for mental health evaluations. Now embedded social workers join the police on their calls to provide a clinical assessment and help determine appropriate mental health care needs and resources.

In the case of the teenage boy, the social worker was able to help provide access to mental health services. “We came back a day later and referred him to a community behavioral health service and set them up so he was able to get therapy in the home,” said Haroldson. “We were also able to provide education for his mother on what it takes for her son to be hospitalized.”

Since the program is new, quantitative information is not yet available to measure its effectiveness. Qualitatively, Haroldson says she has seen many ER visits avoided because there was a mental health expert on the scene. And she’s enjoying the field work after working with inpatients.

“Being back in the community is fun,” she said. “You build a different rapport and different relationships than you get in the hospital.”Regions leaders hope the program will expand in the future and eventually become a new standard of community care.