Paramedics and mental health specialists partner during Williamson Co. 911 calls

Williamson County Medical and Mental Health Services (KXAN Photo)
Williamson County Medical and Mental Health Services (KXAN Photo)

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Yolanda Parrish used to call 911 once or twice a week when she was having problems with her roommates.

“I was trying to deal with someone else as well as myself, it was kind of difficult,” explains Parrish.

That’s when M&M — Medical and Mental Health — stepped in. The Williamson County program pairs up a community paramedic with a mental health specialist to respond to 911 calls, in addition to an ambulance.

“We’re able to assist them in that crisis moment and navigate them exactly where they need,” said Julie Lahr, a community paramedic and developer of the M&M program. “Sometimes that is the ER but many times it’s not, many times it’s a psychiatric hospital or a safety plan, or making sure they have counselors or their medication.”

For Parrish, they were able to help her get out of a difficult situation. “They were willing to help me find another place to live so I wouldn’t have to go through the situation again,” said Parrish. “Due to medical reasons I had to surrender one of my pets, they were able to help me with that too.”

By preventing a trip to the emergency room, M&M crews can help save patients time, free up emergency room beds, and take a load off EMS, which happened during a recent 911 call.

“Once we got there, very quickly we were able to realize it wasn’t chest pain, it was more of an anxiety call,” recalls Lahr. “We cut the ambulance loose and their on-scene time was very short, and just as we did, there was a fatal car accident that dropped 2 or 3 minutes from where they were.”

Under the new program, Lahr is able to spend more than just minutes caring for patients. “To be able to spend longer than that 20 minutes you spend in the ambulance, to really get to know people and what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and what’s going on in their life, to actually be able to help, and really assist and navigate with them, it’s kind of like an oasis for me.”

Lahr was just recognized nationally for the program, receiving the Dynarex First Responder Caring Award, and $5,000 in medical supplies for her department. She also sat on a panel for Mental Health for Community Paramedics during the Las Vegas EMS Expo Convention.

The M&M program piloted Nov. 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017, with one team working closely with EMS on Tuesdays. Now a team of three community paramedics and seven mental health specialists are on call during the day when they’re needed to respond to a 911 call. Lahr hopes to eventually expand the program to have more M&M crews covering Williamson County 24 hours a day.

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