Mental Health crisis up due to COVID

By on Thursday, January 21st, 2021 in More Top Stories Northeastern Oregon News

LA GRANDE – Recently, Jason Hays, Lieutenant of the La Grande Police Department was asked if mental health has increased in La Grande due to COVID.  A response from Hays…

The La Grande Police Department response to calls for service for people suffering from Mental Illness has gone up over 1000% in the last ten years and it continues to climb.  From November 15th to December 31st (2020) we had 69 calls for service that involved people suffering from mental illness.  

This took up 46 hours of our officers’ time, not including the strain it put on dispatch, the hospital ER, Mental Health Crisis Workers, the DA’s Office and the jail.  This was just a 45 day ‘snapshot’ of what we are dealing with.  

This is worse right now due to COVID because there is limited hospital space available for in-patient treatment for people suffering from severe mental health issues due to COVID restrictions.   

Until legislation deems this a priority and gives our mental health professionals the tools they need to help get people into treatment, it is going to continue to be a pressing issue for the police and our professional partners.  

A lot of our calls are for the same people who we deal with over and over again until they digress to the point where they are a serious threat to themselves or others (which is a high bar to meet).  

Once they have met this standard (a threat to themselves or others) then our system has the leverage to get these people into the treatment they need.  Most of the people that we deal with who are suffering from mental health issues do not voluntarily seek out or follow through with mental health services, which is a big part of the problem.   

Union County is being proactive and we are working with our professional partners to help address these issues and find solutions.  Union County now has a Mental Health Court to help get people the treatment they need through the court system after they have been arrested for committing a crime that was contributed to their mental health behavior.  

We are also looking at starting a Multi-Disciplinary Team to help with communication between all of the professional partners to help address these issues and help identify solutions.  These are all big steps in moving forward from here.