Oregon State University is introducing a four-person crisis response  team this week called OSU Assist to better support students facing mental health challenges and other forms of distress or crisis.

When 911 or emergency calls are made to the university’s Corvallis campus Department of Public Safety, dispatchers will now be able to decide if law enforcement is required to respond, or if a response by OSU’s new crisis response team is more appropriate.

The crisis response team is a multi-disciplinary group of mental health professionals, peer support specialists and community health workers. They provide flexibility in responding to calls evaluated to have no threats of violence, and where there is not an immediate medical emergency.

“There may be situations in which university community members may not need law enforcement,” said Aubrie Piper, assistant dean of students and director of Student Care Services. “We’ve done a lot of research on other models of crisis response services, and while some are focused on co-responding due to safety concerns, the situations in which OSU Assist will be sent out are those that have a very low risk of safety issues.”

The OSU Assist team is intended for situations such as mental health challenges, crisis support, substance abuse issues and the delivery of difficult information (such as a death in the family). Piper said the team’s approach is to de-escalate and stabilize a situation, provide support and connect community members to necessary resources.  Additional first responders will be called if needed, or in some cases, staged nearby and available after OSU Assist makes the primary contact.

“We’re working to provide additional and alternative resources that we hope will serve students well, and grow trust in all the resources being offered by the university.” Piper said.

Shanon Anderson, OSU’s chief of police and associate vice president for public safety, said the Department of Public Safety is excited to collaborate with OSU Assist.

“We have a real opportunity to make a difference for our community when we work together,” Anderson said. “Overall, this leads to a healthy community that thrives.”

“Having access to a team of crisis responders who can quickly respond to calls, depending on the situation, either with or without public safety personnel, has been shown to increase access and speed of access to mental health treatment and other appropriate follow-up services. I believe that when we can increase collaboration and communication between the community, the department of public safety, and crisis responders, that we have the potential to see a decrease in repeat calls for service, arrests, use of force incidents, and mental health hospitalizations.”

Dispatcher training is key to the success of OSU Assist, Piper said. Dispatchers will evaluate and triage situations as they speak to callers and seek to recognize which merit OSU Assist, which require law enforcement, or a combination of both.

OSU Assist services will initially be available Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., the times identified by examining previous call patterns as the most likely when services will be used. Those hours will likely be expanded as call patterns are studied, and the team is scaled up.

~ Theresa Hogue