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Ontario County Sheriff’s Office uses iPads to connect people in mental health crisis with clinicians, reducing hospital visits

Ontario County Sheriff’s Office uses iPads to connect people in mental health crisis with clinicians, reducing hospital visits

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ONTARIO COUNTY, N.Y. — Ontario County Sheriff’s deputies are using a new approach to help people in a mental health crisis.

“There’s a lot of individuals who just need a little extra care, they just need to talk to somebody. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be in a hospital setting, that can be right in their own home,” said Beverly Prince, a licensed clinical social worker at Clifton Springs Hospital.

Ontario County has been part of a pilot program that puts iPads in sheriff’s cars. When deputies respond to mental health calls, which they do several times a day, they make an early assessment. If the person agrees, they use the iPad to do a FaceTime or Zoom call with a mental health professional at Clifton Springs Hospital.

“When people realize that when we come in the door, we’re not just going to swoop them away from the comfort of their home and take them to the hospital, that in fact, we’re here to help and this is one of the tools in our toolbox that we can say, ‘Hey we don’t need to take you anywhere right now but maybe you can talk to the mental health practitioner using the iPad,’” said Sgt. Mark Taylor of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office.

That professional can better assess whether the person needs to be brought in for treatment by the deputy or if they can provide some counseling over the iPad and set up outpatient options and transportation for them.

“We’ve seen a lot less people having to come to the hospital, we’ve seen a lot less of the things happening in the news, we know our individuals in the community and now the police can join in on that,” Prince said.

The sheriff’s department says the program has cut down on the number of mental hygiene arrests it’s had to make and freed up very valuable space in the Clifton Springs psychiatric wing, all while still providing help to those who need it. They also say it can be central in de-escalating situations which leads to less use-of-force incidents.

Wayne County deputies are also part of this pilot program. It’s proven to be very helpful in our more rural counties because often the trip to and from the hospital for a mental hygiene arrest can take more than an hour, which cuts into the time that deputies have for other calls and takes them out of the county.

Of course, if the deputies get there and it’s a clear mental health crisis and the person is threatening to harm themselves or others, they still can make that mental health arrest and bring them straight to the hospital. Or, if the person doesn’t want to use an iPad to talk with a clinician, they don’t have to but depending on how the situation goes from there, they still may be brought directly to the clinician.

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