With only 16 days remaining in the 2021 Utah legislative session, several significant bills are in the process of becoming law and reforming the state’s handling of mental health emergencies.
Tooele’s District 12 senator, Daniel Thatcher, has two key pieces of legislation he’s hoping to get signed by Gov. Cox by the last day of legislation on March 5. One of those is SB 47, which will address the way state’s law enforcement crisis intervention teams — CIT — receive and utilize resources to train officers and other response units.
According to Thatcher, there is an imbalance among the agencies in the approach they take using different forms of training — resulting in varying levels of success. His bill is seeking to form a committee to determine best practices and ensure resources are spread out evenly.
“If we can just get everybody on the same page, we will very quickly reach a resolution,” he said.
The plan is for this to be a short-term commission, one that lasts no longer than a year and be repealed upon completion.
“We think this commission will be able to, in just a short year’s time, figure out how to make sure everybody is using the same program so that everyone is getting the same level of support from the state,” Thatcher said.
Ultimately, once the commission has achieved this goal, the state legislature will return next year with a bill to codify those recommended alterations.
Another bill waiting in the House is SB 53, which will create a behavioral response unit to address behavioral emergencies. This position will function similar to an EMT, except those with the new training will be specialized in responding to crises as they relate to mental health.
Thatcher spent the last three years working on the bill and is very excited about its implementation, which he believes will be “absolutely groundbreaking,” as no other state in the country offers such certification as the type he is proposing.
Other states use, in addition to CITs, mobile crisis outreach teams (MCOTs) to respond to mental health-related emergencies. However, those who work at the MCOTs are generally licensed therapists.
This distinction is where Thatcher believes local responders benefit from behavioral response units.
“While [MCOTs] are better at therapy, they are not first responders,” he said.
To facilitate the certification of these new positions, Thatcher and his co-sponsors will partner with the school of social work at the University of Utah. Since training would happen at the expense of residents, the costs for the program would largely be related to the curriculum surrounding the course.
Training would likely consist of a course of study similar to EMT certification classes, which generally take three to four months to complete. Currently, the University of Utah offers a three-month course for $895, plus fees.
In Tooele County, Grantsville firefighter Jared Wright teaches an EMT class for $850, plus fees. (For more information on Wright’s class, visit tooeleemt.com.)
Thatcher’s vision is to incorporate the same level of training to be done in such a short amount of time, with a similar cost.
“We can now have behavioral response units that are specifically trained for behavioral response, instead of a physical [emergency],” he said.
It is unclear whether Tooele will offer behavioral response training in the future, but more details will come as the bill gets closer to being signed.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-TALK.