Public safety

Johns Hopkins to launch Behavioral Health Crisis Response Initiative

Effort will pair mental health clinicians with campus safety and security officers to respond to behavioral health crises; program will be built over the summer with a pilot launch this fall

Karen Lancaster
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To help address the growing need for a more nuanced public health response to behavioral and mental health crises, Johns Hopkins University has announced that it is developing plans for a Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team to serve students, faculty, staff, and community members who experience a behavioral health crisis on or near its Baltimore campuses. The university plans to launch this pilot program in the fall of 2021, first around Homewood and then at other Baltimore campuses.

Modeled after best practices for public safety teams responding to likely mental health crises, the Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team will offer a range of services, including a 24/7 mobile crisis team for people experiencing behavioral health crises. In addition to 24/7 immediate crisis response, BHCST clinicians will also offer near-term mental health support and resources to ensure the individual has continuation of care.

A key component of this effort will also be the university's partnership with Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. (BCRI), an established community organization with significant experience helping individuals in crisis. BCRI will support JHU in providing quality mental health crisis assistance for its Baltimore neighbors, leveraging their unique position as an unparalleled leader in providing robust and effective behavioral health crisis care throughout the city of Baltimore.

"The [Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team] will provide immediate assistance to those who need it and, just as importantly, link individuals in crisis to ongoing university support services in the days and weeks that follow."
Ronald J. Daniels, Kevin Shollenberger, and Connor Scott

"Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. is pleased to partner with Johns Hopkins University to provide behavioral health crisis services and support the work of campus security officers," said Edgar Wiggins, Executive Director of BCRI. "We have provided training to officers to enhance their skills when responding to people in distress. In addition to continuing the training, we will also have mental health professionals available to respond to campus locations as necessary. This is a great opportunity to provide necessary crisis support at the community level."

This co-responder approach of pairing behavioral health specialists with campus safety and security personnel has proved successful in a number of cities around the country, and many institutions of higher education are planning similar models.

The idea emerged from ongoing conversations with affiliates and neighbors that revealed a common desire to augment the university's response to calls for help in acute mental health situations. This feedback was also reflected in a 2018 report by the Task Force on Student Health and Well-being, which called for a comprehensive assessment of the university's response to behavioral crises and, if warranted, to build a more efficient and effective model. Between January 2019 and December 2020, more than one-third (35.6%) of calls to Johns Hopkins Safety & Security were determined to be related to a mental health crisis.

"It became clear that many of the calls being addressed by Campus Safety and Security could be more effectively and appropriately handled by behavioral health clinicians," JHU President Ronald J. Daniels, Vice Provost for Student Health and Well-Being Kevin Shollenberger, and Acting Vice President for Public Safety Connor Scott said in a message to the Hopkins community. "Put simply, it was time for a new approach. ... The BHCST will provide immediate assistance to those who need it and, just as importantly, link individuals in crisis to ongoing university support services in the days and weeks that follow."

To help create and implement the program, the university has enlisted Dr. Ronald Means, a nationally recognized child/adolescent, adult, and forensic psychiatrist who is familiar with effective behavioral crisis response in Baltimore. As the Chief Medical Officer of Catholic Charities of Baltimore – Family Services Division, Means oversees the Baltimore Child & Adolescent Response System, a crisis program serving Baltimore's youth. Since late 2020, Means has conducted extensive benchmarking and an analysis of gaps in JHU's existing behavioral health service delivery system to help frame the scope of the program.

Means' worked closely with Campus Safety and Security, Student Health and Well-Being, and Students Affairs in his analysis. His work was also informed by an advisory committee made up of faculty, staff, students, and community members with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences:

  • Ciara Armstrong, Undergraduate Student, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
  • Rebecca Fix, Assistant Professor, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Kathleen (Kathy) Forbush, Executive Director for Talent Management, Johns Hopkins University
  • Cynthia Lewis, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • Nicki McCann, Vice President of Provider/Payer Transformation, Johns Hopkins Health System
  • Michael McGill Jr., Graduate Student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Johns Hopkins School of Education
  • Jennifer Mielke, Director of Local Government and Community Affairs, Johns Hopkins University
  • Lucas Miranda-Martinez, Undergraduate Student, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
  • Garrett Patrick, MD/PhD Student, Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • Michael Preston, Director of East Baltimore Community Affairs, Johns Hopkins University
  • Nan Rohrer, President, Midtown Community Benefits District
  • Kristina Williams, Executive Director, Charles Village Community Benefits District
  • Tehma H. Smith Wilson, Assistant Executive Director, The Door
  • Nicolas (Nick) Wright, Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, Johns Hopkins University

Since February, the committee has helped to address key aspects of the program in support of both affiliates and non-affiliates, and it continues to be an essential voice in determining how to transition to consistent community-based care and support of individuals beyond the immediate crisis response.

To get to this point, the university engaged more than 250 people, representing more than 70 community organizations near the Homewood, Peabody, and East Baltimore campuses and from their surrounding neighborhoods. More than 15 small group listening sessions were held with student leaders, community and neighborhood advocates, and faculty/staff groups including University Health Services, the Black Faculty & Staff Association, the Counseling Center, the Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program, Diversity Leadership Council, and Student Affairs.

Feedback has also been solicited from local behavioral health providers, LGBTQ advocates, elected officials, community organizations, and other stakeholders, sparking discussions that will help shape and refine the program this spring. Affiliates are encouraged to share their input and questions via email at Additional feedback can be submitted via the pilot program's webpage, where regular updates will also be posted.