Two years after its launch as a pilot program, Minneapolis' crisis response program faces mixed reviews and uncertainty about how long it will last, the Star Tribune reports. Behavioral Crisis Response (BCR), which focuses on emergency mental health calls, is staffed by contractors with Canopy Mental Health and Consulting who have backgrounds in social work, emergency medicine, and substance abuse counseling. The program has helped police officers with thousands of calls dealing with mental health. BCR has been recommended by healthcare providers and the Department of Justice, who want Minneapolis to establish BCR as a permanent emergency program. But as Canopy's contract nears expiration, it's unclear if city officials intend to keep the program long-term.
BCR program manager Marisa Stevenson had asked the Minneapolis City Council to extend Canopy's contract at least through 2025, but the council's Policy and Government Oversight Committee unanimously approved a one-year extension at a cost of $2.9 million. Committee Chair Jeremiah Ellison said he needed more time to consider amending the contract length. The program got off to a rocky start, with two old vans that kept breaking down, preventing responders from reaching calls, according to the DOJ. And the office that the city initially offered responders was a "literal storage closet," according to Stevenson. Recent hires and new vans added in the past two months have improved the program's ability to respond around the clock in all corners of the city. When BCR responders take individuals to the hospital, emergency room clinicians like Melicia Kehneman and her team at Abbott Northwestern are on the receiving end. She said it makes a big difference when responders can provide detailed and pertinent information from a clinical viewpoint instead of when police officers hand off patients. Officers are "not necessarily mental-health trained," Kehneman said, while BCR responders can establish a medical baseline. "I don't see this as a service that is something that we should continue plodding along in a pilot phase for many years," said Ellison, the council committee chair. "I think that we need to be able to fully integrate this into how our city conducts safety and keeps neighbors safe."