Iron County Sheriff's Office mental health unit team has positive response

The Iron County Sheriff’s Office launched a mental health unit team, and it’s been widely popular. However, resources the team needs have been taken away recently. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News )



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

CEDAR CITY — The Iron County Sheriff's Office launched a mental health unit team, and it's been widely popular.

Brenda Pires knew things would be busy, just not this busy.

"We launched our program on April 1," Deputy Brenda Pires said. "We are averaging like one to two calls every single day."

Pires is in charge of the Iron County Sheriff's Department's Mental Health Unit team. When there's a 911 call involving someone having a mental health crisis, a trained member of her team goes with other deputies to help de-escalate the situation.

"Calling the police, I understand why they call the police because they don't know what else to do," Pires said.

One example from a few months ago is when a mother called 911 because her son was having a mental health episode.

Pires' team helped diffuse the situation and got him into a proper treatment facility. Now he's doing better in society.

This was part of the Utah Legislature's plan last year: to create standards and training for local mental health crisis teams.

However, Pires said treatment beds have been taken away recently.

"Everything kind of came to a standstill," Pires said.

Therapists have left because they don't make enough money, and there's a roughly two-week wait for private therapists.

She also says her deputies have been told they can't take mental health patients to hospitals anymore for at least six months.

"Now, when my mental health unit goes to respond, I don't have the resources I need in order to help these people," Pires said.

Pires says her team is only step one.

"It's creating this huge crisis because we have no help for these people once we go and de-escalate the situation and try to figure out what the step two is," Pires said.

Pires says the Legislature did well to help start teams like hers, but now those teams need money to be successful.

"I know everyone is trying to get money from the Legislature because all of their stuff is important to them, but this is important and it's affecting everyone in this state and everyone in the community," Pires said.

Especially in southern Utah where the population is only growing.

Alex Cabrero and Eliza Pace

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