May 27, 2024 Compassion in a Crisis

hands holding up two pieces of a puzzle and fitting them togther

A state-funded initiative pairs behavioral health screeners with law enforcement responders.

It often begins with a 911 call from a family member. In many cases, a loved one who has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness has stopped taking medication and/or is exhibiting concerning behaviors. Often the person is acting erratically or has withdrawn from others and can’t be convinced to seek care or go to a hospital. The family member may be concerned about the loved one’s safety—or their own.

Such situations carry a heightened risk of escalating and requiring the use of force—or even triggering violence—when police respond with lights and sirens. But a new state-funded program through New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General has helped people get the care they need in ways that are likelier to be effective, compassionate and safe.

The initiative is called ARRIVE Together, using an acronym for Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence and Escalation. It began as a co-response program with a plainclothes, Crisis Intervention Team-trained law enforcement officer responding to calls together with a certified New Jersey mental health screener such as those available through RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH) Behavioral Health Services, with the two arriving in an unmarked car.

The certified screener assesses the crisis and determines whether the person requires hospitalization or a more thorough evaluation at a mental health screening center.

If the person in crisis needs further care, the certified screener engages the person to go voluntarily or, if necessary, arranges for involuntary transport. When the person does not pose an imminent danger, the screener provides referrals to community-based support services that could help.

Therapeutic, not Threatening

“It’s important to provide the right environment to speak with the patient and family,” says Frank Ghinassi, PhD, Senior Vice President of Behavioral Health Services at RWJBH and President and Chief Executive Officer of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. “We need to conduct a thorough assessment in a nonthreatening environment where the patient understands that we are there to support them and their health.

ARRIVE Together has rolled out gradually across the state since its founding in December 2021. The initiative has expanded its scope by incorporating additional models tailored to address the specific needs of communities, taking into account their available resources. These models encompass a telehealth initiative, a follow-up protocol and a proactive engagement strategy, particularly implemented at various NJ Transit locations across the state.

Since May 2023, Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC) has provided screeners for Hudson County in collaboration with the county prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s department, coordinating closely with the city of Bayonne’s police department.

“This program takes a holistic view of the person in their environment,” says Robert Winston, LCSW, Vice President of Operations and Behavioral Health at JCMC. “Getting the right people together enhances the ability to intervene safely and have positive outcomes for the individual, the family, providers and law enforcement. We’re all aligned toward this common goal.”

“Through the synergy of law enforcement, mental health professionals like our partners at RWJBarnabas Health Behavioral Health Services and the community, ARRIVE Together stands as a testament to the boundless potential of collaboration to best serve the needs of our communities,” says Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “This first-of-its kind statewide initiative demonstrates the transformative power of partnership, reshaping public safety while redefining the realm of achievable possibilities in providing essential mental health services to every corner of our state.”

Learn more about behavioral health services at RWJBarnabas Health.