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New Behavioral Health Unit puts crisis care experts alongside law enforcement

When people ask Chelan County’s Ana Gonzalez what she does, she can point to one recent call as an example.

Earlier this year, while riding along with the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, Gonzalez responded to a man in duress. He had locked himself in his trailer for nearly an hour by the time she arrived on scene with a deputy. Responders already there hadn’t been able to get the man to open the door. The man, who had a history of mental health issues and substance abuse, had made suicidal gestures to his family the previous evening.

Gonzalez, a mental health expert, was able to talk with the man and get him to open the door. She contacted the local emergency room to let staff know a designated crisis responder would be needed when he was transported to the hospital. Gonzalez then secured a ride from the hospital to Wenatchee’s Parkside Evaluation and Treatment Center, where the man had a bed waiting for him. And she called the man’s primary care physician to alert the doctor to the situation.

She accomplished this all in a span of under 30 minutes.

“In the field, people like me are the social service brokers to law enforcement,” Gonzalez explained. “It’s my mission to help people get the mental health services they need and prevent a trip to the jail.”

Gonzalez heads up the new Chelan County Behavioral Health Unit, started in September to address the increasing need for mental health intervention services in the community.

The new program couldn’t come at a better time. During the 2021 legislative session, Washington lawmakers passed HB 1310, a law governing when and how law enforcement can use force. The new law emphasizes de-escalation when responding to people who are not committing crimes but are having a mental health crisis.

“I can say without a question that the No. 1 issue facing law enforcement today is mental health,” said Chief Adam Musgrove of the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office. “Every day we are dealing with people who are in a mental health crisis.”

A longtime area resident, Gonzalez has a master’s degree with a specialty in mental health counseling. A designated crisis responder, she has completed a variety of trainings for certification, from crisis de-escalation training to disaster response and recovery in behavioral health training. She previously was the Diversion Program manager at Catholic Charities in Wenatchee.

Since being hired at the county, Gonzalez has developed policies and procedures to build a foundation for the program. She’s been reaching out to groups to re-introduce herself as the county’s program manager. And she spends about half of her time riding along with the Sheriff’s Office.

“It has been liberating to build a program that reflects the needs of our communities,” Gonzalez said. “In speaking and working with individuals, families, treatment providers and law enforcement, I am identifying what the key players want. I am implementing their identified service needs to develop a program of and for the people.”

The Behavioral Health Unit works closely with county partners such as the Sheriff’s Office and the Chelan County Regional Justice Center, as well as community partners, including other law enforcement agencies and local health and social service agencies and nonprofits. Gonzalez will have direct access to local law enforcement, emphasizing de-escalation in a crisis situation.

Among the program’s goals are:

  • Respond to calls/referrals for people in a behavior health crisis or at risk for crisis and refer to appropriate social services/treatment.
  • Increase the connection to local services for unmet needs correlated with criminal justice system involvement (e.g., shelter, food).
  • Reduce the number of arrests and hospital emergency department admissions.
  • Identify treatment gaps in Chelan County and promote new approaches to improve behavioral health and social services.

Chelan’s fledgling program is quickly growing. County commissioners recently signed a $180,000 contract with Beacon Health Options, which specializes in clinical mental health and substance abuse disorder. Beacon awarded the county’s Behavioral Health Unit $180,000 in grant dollars to be split over two years.

The money will be used to build the local program, including adding an outreach case manager to the program who will work primarily in the field, responding to calls for people who are having a behavioral health crisis. The position will be filled in early 2022.

“Our goal is to grow a proactive diversion program that brings help to the people who need it,” said Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay. “Ultimately, this program will divert people from our local hospital and jail and get them the real help they need.”

Musgrove, who has worked with Gonzalez in the field, is excited for the future of the Behavioral Health Unit and its impacts on the local community.

“For the last three years, the Sheriff’s Office has been building its own internal approach when looking at how to better respond in these situations where someone is having a mental health crisis,” Musgrove said. “With the availability of a local Behavioral Health Unit, we can provide a level of care in the field that will have big impacts on not only individuals but law enforcement, the jail, and medical and social services. I feel like we’ve gained a partner in caring for our community.”

Last Updated: 12/16/2021 04:08 PM

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Chelan County Calendar

Upcoming events and schedules at the county!

  • 23
    Feb 2022
    08:30 AM - 12:15 PM

    Weed Management Recertification Workshop

    Posted by: Noxious Weed Control Board

    Zoom video conference
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    Feb 2022
    06:00 PM - 08:00 PM

    Planning Commission - February 23,2022

    Posted by: Community Development

    400 Douglas Street
  • 18
    Feb 2022
    09:30 AM - 10:30 AM

    Public Meeting: Public Canvassing Board Meetings

    Posted by: Chelan County Elections

    The Canvassing Board of Chelan County, pursuant to RCW 29A.60.160, will hold public meetings at the dates and times listed below. The meetings of the Canvassing Board are open, public meetings under the applicable provisions of chapter 42.30 RCW, and each meeting shall be continued until the activity for which the meeting is held has been completed.

    Chelan County Auditor’s Office
  • 18
    Feb 2022
    01:30 PM - 02:00 PM

    Public Meeting: Certify Election

    Posted by: Chelan County Elections

    The Canvassing Board of Chelan County, pursuant to RCW 29A.60.160, will hold public meetings at the dates and times listed below. The meetings of the Canvassing Board are open, public meetings under the applicable provisions of chapter 42.30 RCW, and each meeting shall be continued until the activity for which the meeting is held has been completed.

    Chelan County Auditor’s Office
  • 16
    Feb 2022
    09:30 AM - 10:30 AM

    Public Meeting: Public Canvassing Board Meetings

    Posted by: Chelan County Elections

    The Canvassing Board of Chelan County, pursuant to RCW 29A.60.160, will hold public meetings at the dates and times listed below. The meetings of the Canvassing Board are open, public meetings under the applicable provisions of chapter 42.30 RCW, and each meeting shall be continued until the activity for which the meeting is held has been completed.

    Chelan County Auditor’s Office