How Will Cook County's New Triage Center Work? | WBEZ
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How Will Cook County's New Mental Health Triage Center Function In The Community?

Last week, Cook County announced it will open a 24-hour triage center in Chicago where people experiencing a mental health crisis can be stabilized and connected to longer term care.

It’s a response to growing concern about mental health care access and police responding to mental health calls. But it’s not as simple as “build it and they will come,” says Dr. Jay Shannon, head of Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

WBEZ’s Melba Lara spoke with Dr. Shannon about what else needs to happen for the new triage center to be a success. This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness. 

On why Cook County wants to take this on

“We know that behavioral health problems are common. We know they are a driver of significant misery for the communities and individuals that we serve and they're also a big driver of unnecessary cost.”

On why the center will be built on the city’s South Side

“We’re very aware that particularly with the changes over the past 10 or so years, that the West and South side of Chicago were particularly devastated by the loss of community-based services.

Secondly, we know that a significant number of the individuals who are ultimately found to have a behavioral health disorder in the Cook County Jail come from these areas. So we really wanted to invest in the community; put the resources where they will be most likely to be used and used heavily.”

On what role the center will play in the community

“Its doors will be open to a variety of methods. So for instance, a police officer could, using his or her judgment, bring an individual to us. But our doors will be open as well for people from the community. They’ll be open for people who are being discharged from the Cook County Jail as a touchdown site to make sure that we’ve got a warm and complete handoff to community-based services.”

On whether this will change how police officers behave in response to mental health emergencies

Shannon said he hopes the triage center will give police officers “an alternative” to using force, but also that “the triage center alone is not enough,” pointing to crisis intervention training as an important step.

“Really the recognition of a person who’s exhibiting signs and symptoms of an acute mental health crisis are critically important to the reaction of a police officer, it would seem to me,” he said.

On how the triage center could help Cook County save money in the future

When an individual goes into custody today in Illinois most payment sources including Medicaid are either suspended or terminated, so we can’t be reimbursed for the services that happen in the jail. Many of these individuals are very poor, they can’t afford bond and that’s why they end up in jail for a long period of time. So when you total up the medical costs, the housing and custody costs and the judicial costs associated with this they can be very, very high.

But I would just point out again as a physician that it’s the human cost, and the clinical costs, the costs to the individual and their families that we think are really huge.”

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