Richmond’s ability to assist residents struggling with mental health issues has improved the past two years thanks to a Richmond Fire Department program.

RFD received a $1,024,000, two-year grant during early 2022 to develop a paramedicine program that has now transitioned into a mobile integrated health care program. The initial plan was to hire a social worker and paramedic, but RFD Chief Tim Brown said the city’s needs require additional social workers.

“It is successful,” Brown said. “We’re finding that the community needs call for this with the mental health calls that we have, the suicide calls that we have and the opioid addiction calls that we have. … It’s not all about taking somebody to jail or taking somebody to the hospital; it’s about finding somebody long-term help to recover from their problems.”

Earlier this year, Brown received Richmond Common Council permission to hire a second social worker rather than the paramedic. During council’s Nov. 6 meeting, it unanimously approved two ordinances planned to fund a third social worker.

The first ordinance permitted RFD to apply for a $75,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, and the second ordinance approved a two-year extension from the state health department to spend about $387,000 remaining from the initial grant. Brown said that money would fund the three social workers through 2024 and 2025. RFD’s EMS budget and additional grants could absorb the positions’ costs beginning in 2026, Brown said.

Brown said remaining funds from the two-year extension would pay for vehicles, uniforms and radio communications.

Already, the social workers have assisted 1,642 patients and follow up daily with 311 of them. That’s divided between two current social workers.

“We’re looking to add to this department to split up that workload a little bit,” Brown said.

Richmond Police Department Chief Mike Britt told council the social workers have been a valuable asset for his department.

“Police are not fully equipped to handle some of the things that these mental health consumers need, and this has been just a wonderful tool,” Britt said. “From the Richmond Police Department side, it’s been very beneficial.”

The social workers offer more options than police officers when assisting a person struggling with mental health issues. They have access to rehabilitation facilities, for example, and have more time to spend with the person.

“In the past, more often than not, this involved a trip to Reid hospital or jail, neither one of which was the right answer for the city of Richmond,” Britt said. “The social workers bring more tools to the table with them. It’s actually been quite the blessing for us.”

Brown expects to expand the program to four social workers. The Wayne County Health Department’s plan for additional state funding through the Health First Indiana program includes paying an additional social worker if care expands throughout the county.

With four social workers, Brown said the mobile integrated healthcare program would have the resources to serve the entire county.

HELP approval

Council unanimously approved the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program’s strategic investment plan presented during its Oct. 25 meeting.

Richmond has committed $2,393,776 from its American Rescue Plan Act allotment for nine projects with anticipated total investments of $18,809,776.

Council member Ron Oler noted that’s more than a 750% return on the city’s investment. He said that council’s finance committee strongly recommended approval.

Richmond is the last of the eight participating entities to approve the SIP.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 15 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.