Bert Nash to honor local law enforcement with Pioneer Award

Amber Rhoden of the Lawrence Police Department is a passionate advocate for training officers how to intervene with people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

Amber Rhoden of the Lawrence Police Department is a passionate advocate for training officers how to intervene with people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. by Jeff Burkhead

For as long as anyone can remember, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and law enforcement have had a working relationship.

Since the early 2000s, that relationship has changed. For the better.

“I see it as a partnership,” said Amber Rhoden of the Lawrence Police Department. “We want to understand what they do, and they want to understand what we do and why we do it. Everybody is like let’s break down the walls and move forward.”

Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern has been one of those instrumental in breaking down those walls.

“We’re good partners,” McGovern said. “Not only on the corrections side, but on the operations and patrol side. Bert Nash therapists have come in and done support groups after we’ve had a major incident, or officers going through a crisis can reach out to them. Bert Nash is a valuable asset.”

To celebrate that partnership, Bert Nash will recognize the mental health efforts of all local law enforcement agencies with the Pioneer Award to be presented at the Center’s annual Pioneer Celebration on April 18 at Maceli’s. The event is open to the public.

“We are successful in this community because of our partnerships,” said David Johnson, the Center’s CEO. “One of the ones that I’m proudest of is our partnership with Lawrence and Douglas County law enforcement. Our partnership really allows both us and law enforcement to do what we do best to the benefit of the people who we are serving.”

McGovern, who sits on the Bert Nash Governing Board of Directors, said cooperation and communication between Bert Nash and local law enforcement agencies is a win-win for all parties.

“Bert Nash is an integral part of what we all do,” McGovern said. “And we appreciate all that they do.”

Bert Nash provides mental health training to law enforcement as part of a training program called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), which equips officers with skills for intervening with people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. As part of that training, law enforcement personnel go through an eight-hour class called Mental Health First Aid, which is sort of a mental health version of CPR. In 2008, Bert Nash was one of seven pilot sites in the nation that began offering Mental Health First Aid training.

Rhoden of the Lawrence Police Department is chairwoman of the local Crisis Intervention Team Council and works closely with Bert Nash staff on coordinating the training curriculum.

“I think it’s great that our department champions mental health training from the get-go,” Rhoden said. “I honestly believe having that training upfront helps. Some officers might not think it’s our job, that it’s Bert Nash’s job. But we’re the first responders, so teaching officers that we can help people with mental illness is huge.”

Rhoden has a passion for CIT training.

“While we’re not required to be therapists in blue, it is kind of what we are,” she said. “We spend a lot of time dealing with the mentally ill population, trying to figure out what we can do to help. If we have a chance to divert them from the criminal justice system, that’s our main goal.”

Another capacity in which Bert Nash works with law enforcement is through the Center’s homeless outreach team, which receives funding from the city of Lawrence. Also, since 2000, Bert Nash has had a team of therapists working with inmates at the Douglas County Jail.

When someone is booked into the county jail, part of the intake process includes a series of questions to try and assess the person’s mental health. Members of the on-site Bert Nash staff review the inmates’ answers and respond accordingly.

“Our role is to provide mental health services to inmates who have been identified as having a mental health issue,” said Sharon Zehr, the Bert Nash jail team leader, who also oversees the Center’s homeless outreach team

“It used to be, mental health was a secondary issue,” said Douglas County Sheriff McGovern. “Now we see it as much of an issue as physical health.”

Bert Nash therapists are also part of the jail’s reentry team, which helps prepare inmates for reentering the community, in advance of their release.

“Where before, when we released inmates, they’d go out and then they’d come right back in. It can be a vicious cycle and clog up the system,” McGovern said. “Now we try to take a proactive stance with identifying and working with Bert Nash.”

Yet another example of the partnership between Bert Nash and law enforcement.

Sheriff Ken McGovern is a member of the Bert Nash Governing Board of Directors and has been a longtime supporter of mental health services.

Sheriff Ken McGovern is a member of the Bert Nash Governing Board of Directors and has been a longtime supporter of mental health services. by Jeff Burkhead

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