Skip to main content

iPads Help Law Enforcement & Others Connect People in Crisis to Mental Health Resources

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has provided more services to more Oklahomans, while reducing costs and creating better outcomes.

In a largely rural state, where mental health providers can be few and far between, offering services using new technology has helped provide better access to all communities. 

“People need options, no matter where they live,” said ODMHSAS Commissioner Carrie Slatton-Hodges. “Today, Oklahomans can receive mental health or substance abuse services in person, via telehealth or even by telephone.”

Thousands of iPads were distributed to state-operated or contracted Certified Community Behavioral Health Centers (CCBHC), law enforcement for assistance during mental health-related calls, and more than 80 city/county health departments to help rural residents immediately access behavioral healthcare.  

“The tablet program has strengthened our relationships with others, as well, including firefighters, emergency departments, schools, courtrooms and jails,” said Slatton-Hodges. “Also, by putting iPads directly into the hands of consumers with more intense needs, they have immediate access to crisis de-escalation, which greatly reduces the number of calls to both 911 and 988, and results in fewer hospitalizations.” 

Rural law enforcement agencies are champions of the technology, as transportation and access to behavioral health services are challenging in rural areas.  

“When law enforcement officers have a mobile tablet, they can link individuals in crisis directly to mental health professionals in the field,” said Slatton-Hodges. “Before this program, crisis intervention services were costing roughly $500 a day for a patient to be admitted and law enforcement agencies were incurring significant costs related to transport.”

If crisis transport for mental health services is needed, ODMHSAS created a statewide alternative to law enforcement transportation when greater than 30 miles and was the first in the nation to do so. 

“In just over a year, RideCARE has transported more than 14,000 Oklahomans experiencing psychiatric crisis and logged more than 1.5 million miles,” said Slatton-Hodges. “This has saved police and sheriffs’ departments statewide hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and car repair costs, as well as unnecessarily pulling officers off the streets for hours at a time.”

GRAND Mental Health Center, which serves a large swath of north central and northeastern Oklahoma, has really pushed forward with both the tablet program and the “virtual visit” software platform that makes it work, called “MyCare.” 

During a two-year study period in 2018-2019, GRAND tracked time and mileage savings for law enforcement agencies that had implemented the MyCare Platform.

By performing mental health evaluations in the field instead of having to transport to the nearest available psychiatric hospital for evaluation, officers saved 258 days of non-stop driving, 354,322 miles of travel, $191,333 in mileage costs and $127,230 in officer time. 

GRAND also found that, in 2015, before implementation, 959 people in the multi-county pilot area were admitted for in-patient services. By 2021, this number had fallen to 66, representing a 93.1% reduction in the number of clients who could not be stabilized or provided services using the tablets.  

ODMHSAS has expanded the MyCare technology statewide, with nearly 30,000 tablets now being used by clinics, first responders, emergency rooms, schools, jails and individual clients. The iPads work in single-app mode and only run the MyCare app. The primary feature is a large crisis button that connects instantly to a CCBHC, where users can visit with a licensed mental health professional, psychiatrist, nurse practitioner or recovery support specialist.  

“Someone can talk with them right there,” said Slatton-Hodges. “They can have an actual session, discuss, assess, evaluate or whatever they need. In some cases, they could just need a one-time brief intervention to help with generalized anxiety or low mood, or they could need more comprehensive care. There are several options.”

The app also tracks, monitors, and coordinates care needs, appointments and outcomes. 

In January alone, CCBHC clinicians received more than 3,600 crisis calls. By far, “self-harm/suicidal ideation” topped the list of reasons people called, followed by those experiencing psychosis. Other reasons for calling included depression, substance abuse, anxiety, domestic violence and follow-up appointments.

“MyCare’s mission is to provide the mental and physical healthcare needed to the most vulnerable among us in the least restrictive environment possible,” Slatton-Hodges said. “By equipping both first responders and high-risk patients with the technology, and partnering with community mental health providers like GRAND, we are accomplishing that goal. Nearly 75 percent of all calls were served within callers’ communities and that is what we want.” 

The increased use of technology coincides with the agency’s opening of 22 new Urgent Recovery and Crisis Centers across the state, with several more planned this year; construction of two state-of-the-art psychiatric hospitals, the first in decades; and the launch of the 988 mental health lifeline. The agency also streamlined the Medicaid eligibility process and an electronic bed availability report to reduce inpatient waiting times, added significantly to its website and is using technology to reduce accidental overdoses. 

The commissioner noted that investments in technology should result in both saved lives and taxpayer savings, as early intervention reduces the number of people who require more extensive care later.  

“There is no reason anyone should needlessly suffer from a mental or addictive disorder,” she added. “Especially for people in rural areas, technology can be a great ‘equalizer’ by reducing the transportation barrier and providing greater access to services.”

 iPads can be requested through the ODMHSAS website, through this link, or you can watch a related webinar here.

ODMHSAS Communications