Story by Destiny Mizell / Contributing Writer
Earlier this month, Murfreesboro Police Department welcomed their first-ever mental health co-responder due to a partnership between Volunteer Behavioral Health Murfreesboro and the department.
Feb. 9 was Heather Noulis’ first day. Noulis is an employee at Volunteer Behavior Health Murfreesboro but works with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) at MPD alongside Police Officer and CIT Instructor Quentin Peeler and other officers.
“The responder [Noulis] will basically assist MPD by responding out to calls that are mental health-related or a person in crisis who really needs to be connected to resources,” said Noulis’ supervisor, Kelsey Taylor who is the community response and training director at Volunteer Behavior Health.
“Our goal is to be there for the individual, be there for the officers, be there for the community to be there for an on-scene assessment— which is key,” Taylor said.
She explained that in many crises, law enforcement will send the individual to the ER, which she said isn’t always beneficial with bills, lack of prolonged treatment and the like. The co-respondent’s job is to find alternative, more cost-efficient and helpful resources to help the individual in need.
Taylor refers to the co-respondent’s job as a “solution-oriented approach.” She explained that incarcerating someone for a low-level crime inflicted due to mental health issues, just sending someone to outpatient services or involuntary committal isn’t always what someone truly needs.
Taylor stated that research shows that visiting other options rather than the three previously listed shows more efficient results.
Befriending the community and the people of Murfreesboro creates a safer space for the members in crisis. It also aids Noulis in better understanding how to help. Whether the resources needed are housing, financial or food-related, Taylor said, “It’s very important that this co-responder makes connections with key partnerships in the community and really learn what Murfreesboro has to offer so she can do a warm handoff with community partners.”
Not only does Noulis give on-scene assessments with police officers, but she also responds to the 24/7 mobile crisis program in Rutherford County and city limits. Co-responders like Noulis help the police force by tending to crisis-oriented instances rather than crimes. She shared that as of now, Noulis is “designated with one to two different partners to focus on mental health calls” so that other officers can focus on crime calls. There is a lengthy thought process in assessing both mobile and on-scene crises.
Many qualities are demanded for a position like this. Noulis reached out for this position from New York. Taylor explained that she chose her for this position because she has a Master’s degree, demonstrated nonjudgmental character in difficult instances, was organized, ambitious and many other qualities. “She checked all my boxes,” Taylor said.
While they are still collecting data from the past week and a half, Taylor shared, “Heather is doing great.” Taylor explained that Noulis was flourishing already.
Critical thinking, lots of documentation, training, time spent getting to know MPD and Murfreesboro and constantly exploring the least restrictive options for an individual are staples of Noulis’ every day as a co-responder.
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