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“Some days there’s not enough of me”: 2nd mental health clinician proposed in Brown County 2021 budget

Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 5:58 PM CDT
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Brown County’s proposed 2021 budget is calling for a second mental health clinician to help local police agencies respond to mental health crisis calls.

In Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach’s $360 million proposed budget, he would like to expand a pilot program started by the City of Green Bay and Brown County last year.

“Brown County continues to deal with numerous mental health crisis events that require a quick yet measured response,” says Streckenbach. “After seeing the positive results from the initial program, adding a second clinician will further assist responders, as well as the individual, in order to create better outcomes.”

“I respond out to any kind of mental health crisis,” said Heather Burzynski, a clinical social worker for Brown County. She works alongside two Behavioral Health Officers within the Green Bay Police Department.

Burzynski told Action 2 News another mental health clinician is needed in this community.

“There’s some days there’s not enough of me,” said Burzynski. “Paperwork and documentation are such a huge part of this job, and I won’t be caught up for a week at a time because I have so much to do.”

When a mental health crisis occurs, Burzynski responds along side behavioral health officers, like Green Bay Officer Erin Bloch. It allows them to relieve the responding officers to attend to other emergencies, while they can take their time helping the person in need.

“The purpose of my position is to kind of like streamline the process,” said Burzynski.

Burzynski said she has access to Brown County Information, HIPAA information and a person’s mental health history that officers usually don’t have access to use.

“If there’s a crisis call with someone who has a case manager. I have access to that information, and I can talk with the case manager and kind of let them know what’s going on. And then, a lot of the times the case manager can respond instead of police, which is helpful for everyone involved just to not have law enforcement involved to escalate situation,” said Burzynski.

“Basically what I do is I go along and I deescalate the situation,” said Officer Bloch. “There’s gonna be times where we go out and somebody is comfortable talking with the social worker and there’s other times where people would rather talk to a law enforcement officer.”

Behavioral Health Officer Bloch said having Burzynski on the team has dramatically reduced the amount of time someone spends in police custody for a mental health crisis

“It really takes out a couple steps in the process and it makes the stay in police custody way shorter for the person who’s in crisis which is very important because they’re already in crisis and experiencing one of the worst days of their life,” said Officer Bloch. “People don’t want to be in police custody for eight hours at a time, and when we first started this program, that’s what the average was. That has come down now to three hours.... she ( the clinician) comes right up to the call with us already. We don’t have to make an additional step or someone doesn’t have to tell me their story and then tell her the story, and then tell somebody else’s story so it really is about trying to provide a better experience for somebody who is in a mental health crisis."

“I am so proud of the work being done by our officer-clinician team,” said Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith. “These specially-trained police officers along with their clinician partners are committed to helping our community members struggling with mental health issues. Doubling the number of officer-clinician teams will allow us to help more people, prevent more mental health crises', and help keep some of the most vulnerable members of our community safer.”

County officials said the pilot program not only streamlines the process but also saves taxpayer dollars.

“Through the use of effective de-escalation and diversion, the savings estimated through the team is just over $30,000 compared to use of more intense services, like a hospitalization,” said Erik Pritzl, Brown County HHS Executive Director.

However, more importantly it saves lives and helps those who need it most while going through a mental health crisis. That is the reason Streckenbach wants to add another mental health clinician next year through the 2021 budget.

“The human side we can’t put a price tag on. The individual who doesn’t go into system, how much did we save of their life…. and we give a person a second chance,” said Streckenbach.

Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said his proposed 2021 City budget includes funding for two additional police officers to join the behavioral health team to work with a County clinical social worker.

“Public safety is the City’s highest priority and it is my first obligation to Green Bay residents,” said Genrich. “This budget allows for the creation of another Community Crisis Intervention Team, whose work has proved invaluable in responding to and defusing crisis situations and reducing violence in our community.”

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