Michelle Jones, the voice behind the 24/7 crisis hotline, sits in her office. Jones is a licensed clinical social worker, chief operating officer and founder of New Beginnings Counseling Center, and member of the leadership team. 

The 4th Judicial Circuit Leadership Team on Mental Health and Criminal Justice is six weeks into their crisis hotline being available 24/7. Additionally, the team is working to create a board specifically dedicated for mental illnesses. 

In January, the Missouri Department of Corrections and Gov. Mike Parson’s office approved the $50,000 Justice Reinvestment Grant for mental health crisis intervention programs in the 4th Judicial Circuit. The 4th Judicial Circuit consists of five counties: Atchison, Gentry, Holt, Nodaway and Worth counties.

Bob Rice, associate circuit judge and leader of the 4th Judicial Circuit Leadership Team, said immediately following the approval of the grant, the leadership team was able to start up the 24/7 hotline.

Initially, the hotline had one counselor from the Family Guidance Counseling Center on call during the daytime for the 4th Judicial Circuit along with four other counties. Now, another counselor has joined the team to assist with answering these calls.

Rice said law enforcement agencies are currently attending Crisis Intervention Training through the Family Guidance Counseling Center every Wednesday.

Along with the Family Guidance Counseling Center, the New Beginning Counseling Center in Nodaway County assists in answering calls from the hotline.

Michelle Jones, a licensed clinical social worker, chief operating officer and founder of New Beginnings Counseling Center, and member of the leadership team, is on call 24/7 for the crisis hotline. When outside of her office, Jones’s  office phone directs the calls to her work cellphone.

Jones said there is a plan to hire another counselor to help field these calls.

Rice said the leadership team is in the works of creating a mental health board in the 4th Judicial Circuit to dedicate their time solely to these illnesses. The team is putting together bylaws and other necessary paperwork to get this board together as soon as possible.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Human services, 59 residents within the Fourth Judicial Circuit counties died from suicide from 2009 to 2018. 

“I keep thinking about the fact that it's essentially a person every other month that’s committing suicide somewhere in the 4th Judicial Circuit,” Rice said. “I really think that ought to ring a bell with the urgency of why we need to act now and not wait.”

Rice added that there is a need to educate the public on the mental health crisis northwest Missouri is facing and the lack of resources.

Rice said the board would decide how to use funds for resources, to address mental health and addiction prevention and treatment.

He said the leadership team had composed a public information campaign they plan to present to county commissions, municipalities, civic clubs, church clubs and the University.

Rice noted the leadership team is looking at creating a 15 person board, with three representatives from each county in the 4th Judicial Circuit. Once this mental health board is created, Rice said the plan is for each of these representatives to go to their county commission and request to place a property tax on the ballot.

“If the county voters in that area vote to approve it … there would be a property tax assessment,” Rice said. “That money collected would go specifically to the community mental health fund.”

Jones said the biggest piece of the leadership team is the organizations and businesses like New Beginnings Counseling Center, Family Guidance Counseling Center and Mosaic Medical Center coming together in the community to help out those in need.

“We are about, basically, bridging all of the services together in the communities to get people who need mental health and alcohol and substance abuse treatment services to them,” Jones said.

Jones said the crisis hotline is especially targeting those who don’t qualify for Medicaid or insurance.

She noted the team has been working closely with the division of social services and the juvenile office and the Missouri Department of Corrections Board of Probation and Parole. 

Jones said the service can be beneficial to the people who are more recently being released from prison or jail and have lost their health insurance or their job. She added that the hotline can also help people from being reincarcerated by providing them with treatment they may need.

Jones noted that the person calling for help with their mental illness is able to get in for an assessment within 24 to 48 hours to find the right route to get the person the help they need.

In the midst of a crisis situation, a counselor will refer the person to the hospital and coordinate a plan directly with that hospital. Additionally, law enforcement are able to reach out to a therapist, send them out to the scene, assist the officer and provide the person in a crisis the help they may need.

Rice said the program offers fuel vouchers to those who may need financial assistance when traveling to a distant hospital or counseling center for help.

Jones said if a person who calls the crisis hotline refuses to go to the hospital when directed, the counselor will proceed with a mental health well-being call.

She noted that because the hotline is a newer service, the calls come in at a slower pace. She estimated that she receives two calls per day through the hotline.

“Because emergencies do not happen from 9-5, is the biggest thing,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, emergencies usually happen midnight to 3 o’clock in the morning, or late at night, or on weekends, or on holidays.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only four in 10 Missouri residents with a mental health condition received treatment in 2020.

Jones also said it is so important to offer these extended hours of the hotline with COVID-19 creating so many issues with mental health.

“Having the ability to share those [resources] around so that everybody in northwest Missouri feels like, if they need the help, they can get it,” Jones said. “It's desperately needed in this area.”

Jones said, although law enforcement typically use the service the most to help people in crises, the crisis hotline is available to anybody that needs help.

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