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SLO County to launch mobile mental health crisis unit in North County for youth and young adults

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San Luis Obispo County is gearing up to send more mental health professionals and fewer cops to crises.

Thanks to $1 million in COVID-19 relief grants, SLO County Behavioral Health is establishing a Crisis Care Mobile Unit in North County, which will act as a first responder to mental health crises focused on people age 25 and younger.

"The team would have a hub there in Templeton," said Frank Warren, a division manager with SLO County Behavioral Health, "which should speed up response times."

North County sorely needs the mobile unit and its services, according to a county staff report. The county has a similar unit focused on youth in SLO city, but the grant will allow the county to purchase another vehicle, hire more licensed staff, and lease office space in Templeton.

"We are going to add another team, which is a clinician and a peer specialist—somebody who had lived experience in crisis as a young adult," Warren explained.

The unit dispatches to any situation involving a psychiatric crisis, and the call could originate from a family home, a school, a hospital, or elsewhere. The goal, Warren said, is to get more mental health professionals responding to those calls than police officers or an ambulance.

"This gets us closer to that," Warren said. "These efforts here are really designed to reduce the need for those inpatient settings, to help families mitigate issues at home or schools so that they don't become to the level of a hospitalization or involuntary hold."

Another key aspect of the grant and mobile unit will be to establish a brand-new dispatch system for mental health emergencies. While there's no universal 911-type line for that yet, SLO County is beginning to build that infrastructure.

"This money will pay for essentially a staffed phone center, and what we're hoping to do is to create a more streamlined dispatch for psychiatric crisis response," Warren said. "I don't know if we've thought through how long it will be until you and I can call that number, but it gives hospitals and schools, including 911 dispatchers, a direct line to get a mobile crisis response."

While the North County crisis unit will ultimately respond to people of all ages, it will focus on young people whose mental health has been severely and uniquely impacted by the pandemic, Warren said.

"Young people were already in a stage of development that relies on some socialization, and when that socialization is removed, it's going to have an impact," he said. "We're seeing it in all kinds of ways ... in extreme substance use, ... a lot of discussion about suicide, really coming out in terms of isolation and depression.

"There's a heft of the pandemic that sits on young people."

Fast facts

CoastHills Credit Union opened its newest branch in Arroyo Grande on Jan. 31. The new branch at 1360 E. Grand Ave. is staffed with service and loan officers and has a drive-up service lane and walk-up ATM. CoastHills will temporarily close its other Arroyo Grande branch, at 1580 W. Branch St., for a remodel, which will take about three months, according to a press release.

SLO Motion Shoes recently donated more than $3,000-worth of shoes to the El Camino Homeless Organization, which will supply them to residents staying in its North County shelters. Dr. Chris Byrne, owner of the shoe business in Templeton, said of the donation: "We wanted to make sure the homeless population had the opportunity to reach their full potential in regaining their footing in life. You can't do that without a good pair of shoes."

Dawn Ortiz-Legg, San Luis Obispo County's 3rd District supervisor, announced her 2022 election campaign on Jan. 26. Ortiz-Legg is running to finish out late Supervisor Adam Hill's four-year term. She was appointed to the seat by Gov. Gavin Newsom after Hill's death in 2020. Ortiz-Legg's current election opponent is Stacy Korsgaden, who narrowly lost to Hill in the 2020 election. Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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