Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients walk into free and charitable clinics around the Tampa Bay area in need of a doctor.Many are suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some patients were referred to the clinics by staff at hospitals where they landed after years of neglecting to care for treatable conditions.The clinics allow the patients to pay what they can, or nothing at all. They are staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. They survive off donations and small grants.Many of the patients have jobs but they are living paycheck to paycheck. None have health insurance, either because they do not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford private coverage. For these patients, the clinics are often their only option for primary care.

Nonprofit, Alachua Sheriff’s Office Form Mental Health Co-Responder Team

Sgt. Paul Pardue  stands with Briana Kelley, of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare.. Not pictured is Deputy Daniel Maynard, Kelley’s partner on the co-responder team.
Meridian Behavioral Healthcare
The Florida Channel
Sgt. Paul Pardue stands with Briana Kelley, of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare.. Not pictured is Deputy Daniel Maynard, Kelley’s partner on the co-responder team. ";

At the end of June, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office announced a new mental health co-responder team: Meridian clinical specialist Briana Kelley and Deputy Daniel Maynard.

“We’re not just there to be a quick fix Band-Aid,” Maynard said. “We’re there to see if we can provide long-term services, whether they’re needed for the family or the homeless person.”

The long-term services can include elder care, help with drug addiction and mental health issues.

The first mental health co-responder team in Gainesville was formed with the city’s police department in 2018. 

The co-team is comprised of one law enforcement officer, who ensures the scene is safe, and a mental health clinician, who can intervene immediately with whomever needs attention.

“If someone is waving their arms on University and 13th and he has a gun in his hand, I’m not going to take a counselor to go talk to him right away,” Maynard said.

Kelley agrees; she feels law enforcement is always needed at scenes with imminent danger present.

“I have a ballistics vest, but I’m not equipped to handle the rest of the stuff,” Kelley said. “Once the scene is secure, and the crisis has been calmed a little, then we can have a conversation and work on building rapport. You never want to bring more victims to a scene.”

The county’s crisis center has a system for calls that do not require any law enforcement involvement, Maynard said. If there is ever a question about the safety of the people responding, it is more likely that the co-responder team would be contacted.

When it comes to determining what someone may need, it all comes down to starting a conversation.

“It’s kind of situational, but they might see the sheriff’s uniform or my Meridian uniform, and then they’ll start a conversation,” Kelley said.

Calls are processed and entered, according to policy and procedure, before being forwarded to the appropriate dispatcher.

“Some calls require more than one unit, like a suicidal person with a fire too,” Kelley said. “Having two units tied up means that they can’t respond to any additional calls. That’s where we come in.”

The team self-assigns which call to take, Kelley said. When calls come in, they are color-coded by priority.

“The red calls are Priority 1 calls, so if there’s any suicide attempts or immediate threat to themselves, then we’ll prioritize that,” Kelley said. “Then Priority 2 would be something like a Baker Act, and Priority 3 calls would be like domestic disturbances.”

Farther down the priority list are things like well-being checks or medical emergencies where the team would assist the family, Kelley said.

“We’ve helped with a lot of different calls, and citizens may not even know that they’ve gotten a quicker response because we’ve been able to alleviate some of the load,” Kelley said.

Meridian is a private, nonprofit organization that provides a variety of community mental health services, including treatment and education. 

Joy Riddle, senior vice president of Meridian, said forming these co-responder teams has been a part of their long-term plan for a while.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Frank Kinsey said law enforcement officers agree with the long-term value of these teams.

“Having a clinician there helps in erasing or combating the stigma or criminalization of mental health,” Kinsey said.