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LITTLE VALLEY – The creation of a mobile crisis unit for the Cattaraugus County mental health program is moving closer to becoming a reality.

Under the plan, a team of Cattaraugus County residents, trained to deal with people in crisis, would be able to mobilize and be on scene to defuse the situation and deliver the help that is needed. Two large steps have been taken toward making the mobile unit happen.

Dominic Papasergi, chairman of the Cattaraugus Police Chief Association, has endorsed the program.

“Since the mental health system has deinstitutionalized individuals from long-term psychiatric hospitals into the community, the criminal justice system has been heavily relied upon to manage high-risk individuals with a mental illness,” he said in his endorsement letter. “We would welcome support from a mobile crisis team to manage high-risk mental health incidents in the community.”

In addition to that support, new information on funding for the program has come to light, according to Dawn Miller, community services director. In preliminary talks about the creation of the team, a shortfall of $40,000 was identified in start-up capital. Now it turns out that shortfall may not be as large as previously thought. When a member of the team conducts a 15-minute session with someone in crisis, the county can bill $77.34 for that one unit.

“If we have 43 15-minute sessions, we will hit that $40,000 point,” Miller told the members of the County Legislature’s Human Services Committee.

The billing standard makes the program look a bit more feasible, but more work must be done before the program can be laid out and team members can be assembled, County Administrator Jack Searles said.

The new unit would address two cycles in the mental health treatment field: people being dealt with by untrained police officers and those in the system taking themselves off their medication, leading to an inevitable crisis. Both scenarios are a drain on law enforcement and emergency room staffs.

A resolution to move forward with planning for the unit may be filed as soon as the Legislature’s August meeting, but actual on-the-ground work may not start until October or beyond, Searles said.