Johns Hopkins University announced in May its plans to embark on a first-of-its-kind pilot program pairing mental health clinicians with its Public Safety officers to enhance its response to behavioral health crises. The Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team, or BHCST—the first co-responder pilot to launch in a higher ed setting—will be available this fall to support Hopkins students, faculty, staff, and anyone experiencing a behavioral health crisis on and around the Homewood campus.
Modeled after best practices among municipal public safety teams, the BHCST will offer a range of services, including 24/7 mobile response for people experiencing a behavioral health crisis on the Homewood campus. BHCST clinicians will also provide near-term mental health support and resources as part of their comprehensive offerings.
In preparation for the fall launch, the university is recruiting this new team of clinicians. To learn more about this initiative and what program leaders are looking for in these candidates, the Hub spoke with Mary Vincitore, director of operations from Student Health and Well-Being, and Kevin Shollenberger, vice provost for student health and well-being and interim vice provost for student affairs.
What makes the Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team different from other collegiate public safety endeavors?
The BHCST is a first-of-its-kind co-responder model. We reached out to colleges and universities across the country to hear their thoughts on a program of this kind. While all agreed communities benefit from a team approach that uses positive, public health-informed interventions rather than a response from campus security alone, few if any of our peers have this model in place on their campuses. It is a prominent topic within higher ed public safety and health and well-being, and some schools are taking first steps to build a program. We plan to continue to share our experience with our peers and to gain insights from the steps they are taking.
The university is looking for candidates with specialized training and experience. What sort of person do you hope will be drawn to these roles? How many positions are you hiring for?
We aim to hire five clinicians for the initiative's pilot phase. Beyond the general eligibility requirements that can be found in the job descriptions (behavioral health crisis and outreach clinician and behavioral health intervention clinician), we are looking for candidates who are eager to work on a team and offer collaborative mental health care by leveraging resources from their colleagues in Student Health and Well-Being, Public Safety, Student Affairs, Residential Life, and other programs and departments to make sure that the person in need is provided adequate support for longer-term success.
Additionally, strong candidates will be resourceful, adaptive, and comfortable with ambiguity, recognizing that this is a pilot program that we will refine from lessons learned during the first few months of operation.
Furthermore, as the BHCST clinicians will assist JHU community members and Baltimore residents alike who experience behavioral health crises within our security footprint, it is of utmost importance that these clinicians have a deep appreciation for and an understanding of Baltimore, its culture, and the people who call it home. Thus, we are looking for candidates who are embedded in the local community, understand anti-oppression concepts, value diversity and equity, demonstrate cultural humility with critical reflexivity, and can relate with respect and empathy to all.
What might a day in the life of a behavioral health intervention clinician look like?
Clinicians' primary role will be to provide on-call, in-person behavioral health response, in coordination with JHU Public Safety. A typical day will include responding primarily to students' concerns, although a small percentage of responses may be to staff, faculty, and neighbors. Clinicians will respond to a range of behavioral health calls, from general well-being checks in response to concerns brought to them by staff or a student's family member or friends, to a person on or around campus who appears to be experiencing a behavioral health crisis, or to a more acute concern, such as a report of a person who may pose harm to self or others.
Regardless of the nature of the call, the clinicians will respond immediately and engage with both the person in crisis and those concerned for the person's well-being. The clinicians will assess for safety and engage with the individual to determine their needs and how best to support them. If a higher level of care is required—such as ongoing mental health services, immediate evaluation, or hospitalization—the clinicians will facilitate all aspects of that process and support the individual throughout. clinicians will draw on their extensive knowledge of JHU and community resources, including Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., and connect the person in crisis with these resources.
A key component of the work is providing ongoing support as needed to those affected by the event, such as classmates, bystanders, faculty, or residence life staff.
Clinicians will provide critical case-management to ensure the person in crisis has the necessary supports, to confirm that connections to resources have been successful, and to ensure appropriate levels of care and ongoing psychological, academic, and employment supports are in place.
Because this team will work in conjunction with Johns Hopkins Public Safety, university divisions, student affairs leaders, and community health and well-being resources, building relationships within the university and Baltimore communities will be a key aspect of the role.
How great is the need for a service like this?
Through a comprehensive analysis of our dispatch call data, we found that, on average, over one-third of dispatch calls received in 2020—165 calls—were behavioral health–related. Additionally, urgent calls to the JHU mental health service provider hotline during nights and weekends totaled over 150 in 2020. A 2018 JHU task force report further highlighted the need for the university to develop a more robust and comprehensive behavioral health crisis response program. Given the data and the task force report, it became clear that the university's current approach was not ideal, and that behavioral health clinicians can provide more effective and appropriate intervention in behavioral health crises.
We chose the Homewood campus as the location for this pilot because the call data showed that 70% of behavioral health–related calls were for students experiencing a mental health crisis. With well over 50% of our students living and studying near the Homewood campus, we wanted to launch our pilot where our students live, work, and frequent to meet the greatest need. We hope by focusing our resources in the Homewood area during the pilot, we will ensure that we can respond quickly and provide prompt assistance.
Will these services be available to the local community as well, not just Hopkins' students, faculty, and staff?
This program will be available for anyone experiencing a behavioral health crisis on and around our Homewood campus. In a moment of crisis, we will not withhold assistance based on someone's affiliation or non-affiliation with JHU.
After providing initial assistance, the BHCST will connect non-affiliate community members in crisis with Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., which will help us provide quality behavioral health crisis assistance for our Baltimore neighbors, leveraging their unique position as Baltimore's leader in providing robust and effective behavioral health crisis care.