SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – According to medical professionals, we are in a mental health crisis that is putting strains on an understaffed police department and emergency rooms.

A grassroots effort called, “crisis response system” is being put in place to support mental health issues and community members.

“Oftentimes, what I call my people, my patients that are really really sick with psychosis or that are really intoxicated, the police tell them to stop or do something and they’re in a state of delusions and hallucinations. They can’t even- they may not even see the police officer,” said Dr. James Patterson, department chair of Physiatry and Behavioral Medicine at LSUS Health Shreveport.

Dr. Patterson says Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the country, with some cities having the highest crime rates in the nation and most serious mental health needs.

Police officers are the first to respond to the public in crisis, but many agencies are not trained to deal with patients with mental health issues. This coalition aims to offer support.

“The Shreveport police they see it, they’re hungry for this. It’s sad for them and they spend hours on even one crisis case, versus 30 minutes on a traffic accident,” said Susan Reeks, chief development officer for the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse of Northwest Louisiana.

A key feature of the system will be co-responder teams. Professionals trained in mental health will be sent with police officers so if a non-crime scene with a patient emerges, the police can turn it over to the mental health crisis response team.

“We have to educate our 911 operators to be able to distinguish mental health needs. Right now, they have some of that training and some of that opportunity, but that needs to be expanded. Who do we send to those crisis response teams, who do we send to the police,” said Dr. Patterson.

Reeks says that through collaboration, the cycle can be broken of officers spending hours with an individual at the ER and the emergency rooms, then releasing them without support where the cycle continues.

“With the short staffing problems we have with our Shreveport police alone, you can imagine how many hours this will free up for them to do things that are more important that they were trained to do,” said Reeks.

On Thursday, November 2, CADA will be hosting a breakfast and panel discussion at the YMCA on 3455 Knight Street in Shreveport. Breakfast will be given at 8:15 and at 8:30, the public is welcome to learn about this mental health crisis initiative from non-profit organizations, law enforcement, and agencies.