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DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s been nearly two years of living through the pandemic, and in early December, the U.S. Surgeon General warned it is taking a toll on the mental health of children and teens.

Broadlawns Medical Center is now expanding its Mobile Crisis Mental Health Response Team to assist children and teenagers experiencing a mental health crisis.

Broadlawns is extending its mobile unit in an effort to divert 911 calls that are not criminal in nature to well-trained mental health clinicians. In addition, the hospital, along with the Des Moines Police Department, will train staff to provide mental health assistance for youth and adults through crisis intervention.

DawnMarie Hooker with Broadlawns Medical Center believes the extension will benefit youth in Polk County.

“They’ll be able to go out and speak with the children, providing the parents are OK with it and they want us there,” said Hooker. “Then we’ll have that conversation with them and see what we can either work out as a game plan or what kind of services we can get into place for them to continue to help with their mental health issues.”

Broadlawns hopes to provide enough staff to relieve the Des Moines Police Department from responding to mental health calls. 

“We’ll have a team of three rotating between a part of the 911 center that’s located right at the Des Moines police station,” said Phil Sullivan, a team leader on the mobile crisis unit. “And then two staff people rotating in the field to be able to respond to those [mental health] calls.” 

Broadlawns says the program’s goal is to transport, stabilize and offer long-term care for children and teens. Additionally, the hospital has partnered with the nonprofit Easterseals Iowa to help aid with long-term care. 

“Easterseals Iowa is proud to partner with Polk County Health Services and Broadlawns Medical Center to provide support to children who are experiencing a brain health crisis. We will partner with the mobile crisis program to support children and their families who need access to immediate mental health counseling and supports that can be provided in their home or in a residential environment at Easterseals for up to five days.”

Krable Mentzer, Chief Administrative Officer for Easterseals Iowa

Broadlawns hopes to kick off the program in 2022. In the meantime, the hospital is recruiting mental health professionals to fill positions for the mobile crisis unit.