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VOLUSIA COUNTY, FL – A newly hired mental health crisis counselor arrived at the Volusia Sheriff’s Office Communications Center this week, marking the beginning of a new program intended to provide expert insight on calls involving people in mental health crises.
Angela Hardee, an SMA Healthcare crisis care manager embedded with VSO’s 911 dispatchers, will assist on certain calls and help route them to the right mental health care providers.
Her position is new to Volusia County and will assist on calls throughout the county and city jurisdictions. As the program develops, its focus will be to direct certain mental health calls to SMA Healthcare’s 24/7 Mobile Response Team – potentially reducing the number of calls where a law enforcement response is necessary.
“If we have a mental health counselor on the call from the beginning, then we have a better chance at getting the right resources where they’re needed right away,” Sheriff Mike Chitwood said of the program. “Our dispatchers, deputies and police do an incredible job handling these calls day in and day out, and this is one way we can help make the system work better for everyone.”
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“Crisis care is a self-defining term – and placing a crisis counselor at the 911 call center expedites the delivery of professional services to a potentially volatile situation. We are very fortunate that the Volusia Sheriff’s Office is proactive and places high value on innovative partnerships, particularly when it comes to addressing the critical needs of our community.”SMA Healthcare Chief Operating Officer Rhonda Harvey added
Hardee is completing a training and certification process at the Communications Center now.
VSO dispatchers have also been receiving special training for callers in mental health crisis. Last year, the agency began putting every 911 telecommunicator through a specialized, 3-day Emergency Mental Health Dispatching course, taught by a mental health professional with the Michigan-based 911 Training Institute.
VSO and SMA Healthcare are partners in several other mental health initiatives, including a crisis response program using iPads that launched in 2020. That program, funded by a $10,000 donation from Florida Power & Light, provided several iPads for deputies to hand to people who need to talk to a live mental health professional.
SMA Healthcare provides 40 hours of crisis intervention training to all deputy recruits in the VSO Training Academy, in addition to ongoing crisis training provided to deputies.
VSO and SMA are also partners in the development of a Family Resource and Juvenile Assessment Center in Daytona Beach, a centralized facility where juveniles and their families will be able to access resources from a variety of agencies dealing with juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse, truancy and other issues.