How Atlanta can learn from a community’s mental health response


11Alive traveled to Tucson, a community receiving international attention for its response to the crisis, to see what lessons Atlanta could learn from its response.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Gary McGinnis struggled with depression and drugs for decades. Now, after more than 13 years of sobriety, he has reflected on what made the difference.

“I call it the gift of despair,” he said. “There is a reading that at the end of the road we find that we can no longer function with or without. We have to find a new way of living. So it was about searching for it. What is this new way of living ?

His question is our question. Communities are currently at the end of the road, desperate to know how to really help people with mental illness.

11Alive investigators met McGinnis in Tucson, Arizona while researching a concept that was gaining international attention. It’s called No Bad Door.

In Tucson, it’s a system, not a slogan. Every community has 911, police and crisis care. What makes Tucson different is how they use them.

“It’s a bit like Rome. Many roads lead here,” Margie Balfour explained, adding that no road is the wrong road. “Our whole system really embraces this no-bad-door philosophy.”

RELATED: Can Atlanta Adopt What This City Is Doing To Help Police, Dispatchers Respond To Mental Health Calls?

Balfour helps run the Tucson Crisis Response Center, or CRC, which is considered the heart of the system.


For many, the first door they reach is 911. In Tucson, a mental health clinician is integrated into the process. If a call warrants mental health intervention, rather than police or EMS, the call is directed to that clinician.

While police are still needed, Tucson said it has made crisis intervention training, CIT, a priority. About half of its police force has received the training.

NAMI of Southern Arizona would like to see this training for every police officer.

“Education is the gateway to understanding and empathy,” said training and resource specialist Lisa Cole. “It’s very traumatic to already have serious mental health symptoms and then to see uniformed officers coming in with guns and their weapons. It’s going to escalate and make it worse.

This is one of the reasons NAMI partners with those giving the training to talk with the officers about what it is like for the person in crisis.


This awareness and education has led Tucson to go further with special teams focused on crisis prevention.

11Alive Investigator Rebecca Lindstrom once followed as they drove through Tucson, transporting a woman for a mental health evaluation after she allegedly failed to follow her court-ordered treatment plan.

“Your case manager, if they feel like there’s a problem with you or they feel like you’re not following the treatment plan, they can send a form to the court that suspends your outpatient status,” said agent Joshua Godfrey. to the woman.

Tucson Police Sgt. Jason Winsky said programs like the Mental Health Support Team should be part of every community’s parity discussion.

“If you look at a police department that has a DUI team or a gang team or any other specialized team, why wouldn’t you have this one?” sergeant. Winsky asked.

He said that due to their specialized training, the team has only used force once in eight years. They arrested less than 10 people.

sergeant. Winsky said that several years ago the police department studied their prison population and found nearly two-thirds had a mental health diagnosis. They needed treatment, not jail time.

“You hear chiefs and sheriffs saying I don’t have a place to take this person,” he said. “The value of the ‘no wrong door’ policy here at the Crisis Response Center is that when my team and I are out in the community, that I don’t have to worry about it.

Balfour said it was no surprise that a year after the CRC opened, their data showed the number of inmates with serious mental illness had halved and the crisis ending in the emergency room. had dropped by 80%.


The CRC is open 24 hours a day and is accessible to anyone in the community, regardless of insurance. The needs of those who walk through the doors range from expired medication to a full psychiatric break. Balfour said the staff would never turn anyone away.

Balfour said it was important that when people come to them through the police, the handcuffs come off immediately if handcuffs are used. She said it is their staff who hold the key to signaling that they are there for treatment, not punishment.

“We don’t use any security personnel,” she said. “We take very restless people, we want very restless people. These are the people who need a specialist facility like this the most.

It can take hours for an officer to drop someone off at the emergency room for an assessment. At the CRC, it takes less than ten minutes.

“In my mind, that’s the foundation of the work we do,” Winsky said.

The CRC is connected to a traditional hospital, a mental institution and a court. Today, the CRC goes even further by launching a program called Transitions.

“Whatever your crisis is, we can understand it and help you find direction from here,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis now works as a Peer Recovery Support Specialist at CRC. Its role has changed over the years from helping people get connected to Medicaid or other services if they are eligible to now following people after they leave CRC to making sure they stay connected. .

“They open up more, they tell us more when they can’t believe sometimes ‘hey, I was a person looking for cigarette butts in the gutter because I needed a smoke,'” McGinnis said. . “Most people want to talk. They want to be heard. So our job is to listen and hear.

The CRC did not exist during its decades of addiction and depression.

“Actually, I had robbed my little brother’s bank account. I found his booklet and ran out of money to buy cocaine,” he said. “I was homeless. My relationship had abandoned me. I suffered from depression. I tried to kill myself.”

But, McGinnis said he’s grateful to now have a place where he can use those experiences to help others.

“We are the ones who can show others that it can be done,” he said. “This change is possible.”

Change for the person and the community in crisis.

#Keeping is an investigative series that exposes the shortcomings of Georgia’s mental health care system that result in thousands of children being returned to state custody.

MORE #KEEPING: Can Atlanta embrace what this city is doing to help police and dispatchers respond to mental health calls?

‘That’s it’ | Mom hugs Speaker of the House after Georgia passes historic mental health reform

Reporter Shares What Sparked Series About Gaps in Georgia’s Mental Health Care System and How You Can Help


Comments are closed.