Davis County receiving center provides possible solution to critical emergency response gaps
Jul 21, 2020, 11:52 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 3:17 pm
BOUNTIFUL, Utah — About one in five Utahns suffer from poor mental health, according to the Gardner Policy Institute. Many end up either in jail or overwhelmed with health care costs.
A pilot program is hoping to change that, by providing desperately needed resources for those in crisis.
The KSL Investigators exposed critical gaps in law enforcement training when responding to calls for a mental health crisis.
A new facility now gives law enforcement another tool to help those in need.
The Davis County Receiving Center
The Davis County Receiving Center, the first program of its kind in Utah, opened in December.
“Those are basically mental health emergency rooms where somebody can go. They’re no refusal. Law enforcement could drop people off who are having an issue,” explained Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. “No appointment necessary. Just show up anytime, day or night.”
Eliason said the receiving center is an alternative to jail or a costly traditional emergency room for both low-level offenders, or anyone struggling with mental health or substance use issues.
Law enforcement, city leaders, legislators, prosecutors and clinicians came together to find a better option for those who found themselves stuck in the system.
“At what point do we say this isn’t working?” Eliason said. “It’s a revolving door. They’re not getting the treatment they need and we keep doing the same thing over and over.”
He said incarcerating someone with mental illness doesn’t allow them to get the treatment they need.
“Simply putting them [in] jail, often just exacerbates that person’s situation,” he added.
That’s why Eliason and other lawmakers fought for additional funding in the most recent legislative session to fund the receiving center in Davis County beyond its first year and build additional centers throughout the state.
“The bottom line is that our society, our state, our country, will pay the costs related to mental illness one way or another,” he explained, underscoring the need to do it the right way.
Kingsley spent three days at the center to detox and got connected with long-term treatment at Infinite Arches in South Ogden. So far, it’s been successful.
“I wish I had this when I was 18 because it would have turned my whole life around,” Kingsley said.
Eliason said this approach tackles the core problem.
“Looking at the underlying issues and treating those instead of just criminalizing a mental health or substance use disorder issue,” he said.
Kevin Kingsley, 24, is familiar with the criminal justice system.
“The first time I used drugs was in jail, you know, methamphetamines,” he described. “And so that’s where it all started.”
Kingsley was on his high school football and wrestling teams when he was first arrested.
Instead of getting the help he needed, he found himself interacting with other people in jail who had made poor decisions.
“I learned how to be a better criminal,” he said, only furthering his problems.
Kingsley also battles Bipolar Disorder.
“I was very depressed. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
In January, after spending more than a year in jail and surviving three overdoses, Kingsley was at an all-time low.
“Because I was in [a] heroin addiction and I was scared it was gonna take my life, but I couldn’t say no to drugs,” he explained.
That’s when his friend dropped him off at the Davis County Receiving Center on January 3, 2020. He said that day was the beginning of his new life.
Kingsley first learned about the center on KSL.
In his 32 years of service, Bountiful Police Chief and President of Utah Chiefs of Police Association, Tom Ross said he’s most excited about this new program.
“Can you imagine a day when a police officer walks up to somebody in this vulnerable population and they are excited to see us or actually seek us out?” said Ross.
In the past, Ross said, law enforcement was often “getting squeezed in the middle.”
“You don’t want to call us because you’re worried that if we show up, we’re going to take someone to jail, or we’re going to take somebody to a hospital, it’s going to incur costs,” he explained. “And so, they wait until it’s in a severe crisis moment when there’s no other option.”
“There’s got to be a way for law enforcement to be seen as the good guys and gals leading out on getting people help,” he said.
Ross said they are trying to be more proactive in looking for ways to solve problems rather than doing the same thing over and over again.
“If law enforcement had the ability to not charge them, take them immediately to someplace to get help, and then start them in treatment, we are actually doing a better job of keeping our community safe,” he said.
In the seven months the receiving center has been open, 228 people have been helped. Without these services, 45 percent of those referred by law enforcement would have gone to jail, and 18 percent would have gone to the emergency room. Another 19 percent would have stayed home, nine percent would have gone to a different emergency shelter or crisis center, and the other nine percent selected “other.”
“So as people are leaving here, they’re in a better place,” Ross said.
After three months, 78 percent of the center’s clients are sticking to their treatment plan.
“These are numbers that we’re not seeing anywhere else,” Ross emphasized.
He said the Davis County Receiving Center is all around a better solution.
“Because we’re removing them from the street. They’re staying here longer than they would have the jail, and they’re doing it in a positive way,” he said.
A Different Approach
Brandon Hatch, CEO of Davis Behavioral Health, said he wants their clients to feel comfortable at the center.
“We’re not a jail, we want it to be welcoming and homey,” he said.
“Really it’s about providing them options and better places to go to get help,” Hatch explained. “Emergency rooms aren’t set up to deal with behavioral health and jails — really, that’s not the purpose either.”
Upon arrival, the receiving center ensures individual needs are met.
“We screen them for their physical health needs. We screen them for suicide, and we evaluate them for behavioral health — both mental health and substance use,” he said.
Recliners, books and motivational posters help it feel more like home.
Kingsley said he slept in a recliner his first night at the center to help him detox.
“I felt comfortable being here, you know, for the first time,” Kingsley said.
Clients like Kingsley have 24/7 access to nurses, psychologists, community mental health resources and peer support.
Kingsley said someone from the center regularly called to check in on him once he was discharged and started outpatient treatment. He said it made a difference.
“You know, knowing that someone’s thinking of me,” Kingsley explained.
Best of all, the services come at no cost to the client.
“They’re not going to get a bill. They’re not going to get charged,” Hatch said.
Reducing The Burden On Jails, Increasing Public Safety
Davis County Sheriff Kelly Sparks said the receiving center confronts the jail’s ‘revolving door’ that all too often replaces mental health and substance abuse treatment.
“[Jails] have, in some regard, become the de facto center for mental health and substance abuse,” he said.
“[It’s] not a good environment to treat either of those things,” Sparks explained. “They’re coming in, they’re getting arrested, they’re coming in and getting bailed out and we’re not, again, not addressing the core problem.”
Sparks said the center also reduces the burden on jails and increases public safety. Processing an arrest can take an officer an hour but dropping someone in crisis off at the receiving center only takes an officer about six minutes.
“That gets officers back out on the street available to respond to other emergencies,” he said. “So, it’s really a win-win.”
Sparks said jails are becoming more and more crowded. He said by offering an alternative for those who could benefit from treatment, they also create space for those who are actually a threat to the community.
“So, you also have to worry about displacing people who really need to be in jail for public safety reasons, because you’re dealing with this whole other population,” Sparks said.
And putting people in jail with mental health or substance use issues often heightens their risk.
“It increases the likelihood that they will be dealing with suicidal thoughts, [and] certainly increases the likelihood of health problems because they’re now also dealing potentially with withdrawals,” Sparks said.
He said it puts a large strain on any correctional facility.
“Because now you’re expanding a lot of additional resources to keep those people safe, to watch over them to make sure they’re not attempting some kind of suicide, and to make sure that their mental, their physical health, is maintained through that withdrawal process,” Sparks said.
A New Perspective
As for Kingsley, it’s changed how he views law enforcement. In the past, Kingsley avoided officers at all costs.
“I didn’t want nothing to do with them, we’ll just say that,” he said.
But today, Kingsley is grateful for the hand they’ve extended.
“Now that I see this, you know, a lot of my mindset goes to, ‘Wow, they do care,’” Kingsley said. “I’m proud of Davis County doing something like this.”
“I think people want to have positive relationships with police and I think a lot of people do, but this vulnerable population is probably very wary of us,” Ross said. “If we can change that and be seen as a friend and help, and maybe [as] someone that offers hope, I think that’s what makes a big part of the difference.”
Ross said clients are coming into the center with a completely different attitude.
“To have somebody in uniform, who you were scared of coming in the first place, reach out a hand to you and say, ‘I want to help you and I can take you somewhere to avoid these criminal charges,’” Ross said. “This helps all of us.”
Kingsley knows if he continues to utilize the resources in front of him, he can chart a new course.
“As long as I stay clean and do something in my recovery every day, I can be someone,” he said.
Without the receiving center, Kingsley isn’t sure he’d have a future.
“Wow, I’d be in trouble, that’s for sure. I’d probably be dead, so I’m grateful to be here,” he said.
Lawmakers recently passed legislation funding three additional receiving centers in Salt Lake, Utah and Washington counties, servicing about 80 percent of Utahns.
People can access centers through MCOT (Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams), police or simply by walking in.
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Visit KSLInvestigates.com to submit your tip, so we can get working for you. You Ask. KSL Investigates.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Statewide/Salt Lake County Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
- Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
- Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
- Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
- NAMI Utah: namiut.org
- County Crisis Lines: https://www.namiut.org/families-caregivers/suicide-prevention
- Utah Chapter-American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org/chapter/utah
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org