Parmer said that archaic approach persists, but that this partnership will go a long way to improving the situation.
“When behavioral health patients come to the ER, it’s not as fast as, ‘Oh, you need stitches,'” Parmer told the county commissioners. “Sometimes there’s a lot of addiction that’s involved and substance abuse. So we have to wait for those things to go out of people’s systems to be able to evaluate and care for them.”
She said that can result in lengthy stays for patients.
“Their stays at the ER currently range from 16 to 24 hours,” Parmer said. “If they don’t qualify to go to our in-patient behavioral health unit, they literally sit in an ER bed and sometimes in our isolation room for hours and days to try and get them taken care of.”
The amount and frequency of such cases has been trending higher in the county for more than a decade.
Helena Police Chief Steve Hagen said mental health calls for service have ballooned in recent years.
According to HPD statistics, from 2015 to 2019 the city of Helena recorded an average of slightly more than five suicides per year and 31 attempted suicides per year, though Hagen said the actual numbers are likely higher.
In 2003, HPD officers placed 51 individuals into police protective custody, meaning the individual posed a threat to themselves due to their mental illness. By 2018, that number was 418.