Wichita City Council approves expanding mental health response team

The planned expansion would increase the availability of this resource to officers and get more people the help they need.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 6:09 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Meeting people where they are: That’s the goal of a planned expansion to Wichita’s “Integrated Care Team Program.” The Wichita City Council on Tuesday approved funding for the expansion. Wednesday, it will go before the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners.

The program, “ICT-1,” launched in 2019. Since then, the team has provided resources to people in a mental health crisis and freed up emergency resources. Last year, ICT-1 responded to more than 1,000 calls. That three-person team, a Wichita police officer, a licensed mental health provider and a paramedic, are being requested at more calls than they’re able to respond to.

The planned expansion would increase the availability of this resource to officers and get more people the help they need. The partnership between Wichita police and COMCARE has become a key tool in responding to situations involving mental health crises.

“Crises don’t often occur in an office. They occur in somebody’s natural setting,” said Sedgwick County COMCARE Executive Director Joan Tammany.

Tammany said by having the mental health resources come to people in crises, more crises can be resolved without trips to the emergency room.

“It’s much more effective for the person, less traumatic,” Tammany said. “Gets them the resources they need and it’s also reducing the burden on the emergency department and law enforcement.”

The plan the Wichita City approved Tuesday would increase the number of mental health professionals available to Wichita police when responding to a mental health crisis.

“Just on one police channel, you might hear them ask for ICT-1 five times. They’re only able to make one of those calls,” said Wichita Police Department Captain Jason Cooley.

Four new teams will have a different composition than ICT-1, each with a clinician and integrated care specialist. Instead of having an officer riding with them, they’ll respond to locations where officers request mental health services. These teams will be able to do more follow-up work.

“If a plan is put into place, a safety plan, the next day, the team can follow up or that case manager can serve as a support to that person,” Tammany said.

She said COMCARE is finding that when it comes to mobile crisis response, 70% of people are having their first interaction with a behavioral health professional.

If the Sedgwick County Commission approves the mental health response team expansion Wednesday, the goal is to get eight people hired for the new teams as soon as possible. But this comes at a time when there’s a shortage of behavioral health professionals. Once in place, the teams would be available from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days per week.