School of Social Work collaborating on 911 alternative response model for Louisville that will focus on behavioral health support

Steve Jones

During a time when local and national attention is focused on calls for changes in policing, collaborators from Spalding University,  University of Louisville, Seven Counties Services and the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities have initiated planning for a community-centered alternative response model for Louisville for 911 calls best served by mental health and social services professionals rather than through traditional police engagement.

Diversion Options: Voice and Empowerment (DOVE) Delegates is a research and development partnership that will design an alternative response model that meets Louisville’s unique needs, based substantially on input from the city’s residents and those directly impacted.

The need for an alternative response model derives from community concerns about instances in which law enforcement officers engage with individuals experiencing behavioral health crises. The DOVE Delegates researchers will seek to develop a model that reduces the criminalization of intellectual and behavioral health conditions by using community-care practices and linking people to appropriate health and social services.

Those involved in the project will assess known best practices from other cities, analyze local data and organize community forums. Although similar models have been highlighted nationally, Louisville’s DOVE Delegates planning process is intentional about learning from the work of others while ensuring the model fits the context and climate of Louisville. DOVE Delegates seeks input of invested community members, as well as city leaders, behavioral health and social service providers, and representatives from advocacy organizations.

Susan Buchino, assistant professor and assistant director of the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, based in the UofL School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS), will co-lead the university’s research effort with Tony Zipple, an executive in residence at SPHIS.

The Spalding University School of Social Work will concentrate on organizing focus groups of Louisville residents to learn about their experiences and to integrate their input into planning and decision-making. A community survey launched this month with focus groups to be held throughout the city. School of Social Work Chair Shannon Cambron will lead Spalding’s involvement, and Louisville social worker and community organizer Khalilah Collins will serve as a project manager on the forums, which aim to elevate the voices of those whose lives may have been negatively impacted by current systems and practices.

“For generations we’ve policed rather than resourced our community,” Cambron said. “Moving toward a model of alternative responders, equipped to respond to crisis issues related to mental health, houselessness and substance abuse moves Louisville forward in the pursuit of an equitable and just community. Our study grounds the work in the community, elevating the voices of those whose lives have been negatively impacted most by our current systems and practices. We have a chance to respond to the urgent need of this time, and I’m grateful that Spalding is answering our mission’s call.”

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Experts from Seven Counties Services will contribute insight from the perspective of a mental health services provider, focusing on behavioral health crisis response.

The work of UofL, Seven Counties and Spalding will be combined into a progress report that will be presented this summer to Louisville Metro Government, which is providing support to the DOVE Delegates through funds focused on reimagining public safety, including forfeiture monies from the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Recommendations will be made for an implementation plan for a pilot program in the city’s 2022 fiscal year. The goal of implementing such a model is to create a positive health and economic impact on the community.

The Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities is supporting DOVE Delegates through a federal Transformation Transfer Initiative Jail Diversion grant from the National Association of State Mental Health Project Directors.

Key to its community engagement, DOVE Delegates has seated a 20-person accountability/advisory board made up of representatives from around the city and from a range of professional and personal backgrounds. The board was formed to ensure accountability and transparency to the community, and it will provide recommendations and insight into the planning and development process while supporting outreach and engagement efforts of the project.