This story is republished from the Oklahoma Voice. Read the original article.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Gene Bradley stared down the reality that a gunman who threatened to end his life could die, like so many others who experience a mental health crisis.
But on that fall day in 2021, Bradley had a tool that would make a difference — an iPad that quickly connected the man to a mental health professional.
After a virtual visit with a counselor, the man who threatened to take his own life decided to get help instead.
“It de-escalated the situation right then,” Bradley said. “It was a pretty intense situation where that tablet was a big intervention.”
Law enforcement and clinicians say the iPads distributed by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services have been a game changer in the delivery of services across the state.
The agency has distributed 30,000 iPads to law enforcement and mental health providers since 2021. The Oklahoma Legislature approved $17 million that year to improve crisis response, including $2 million for iPads for officers.
Carrie Slatton Hodges, outgoing commissioner of the agency, said in an email that the technology has strengthened its relationships with law enforcement, schools, firefighters and prisons.
“We can put a tablet directly in the hands of consumers with more intense needs and they have immediate access to crisis de-escalation, greatly reducing the number of calls to both 911 and 988 and resulting in fewer hospital admissions,” she said .
Since the funding boost, the agency has added nearly two dozen acute shelters — facilities that serve as emergency admissions for mental health needs — and launched the toll-free Mental Health Lifeline, 988. The agency has also increased mobile crisis units, a team of clinicians who respond to behavioral health emergencies .
Virtual visits on an iPad are especially effective when a person in crisis doesn’t meet the criteria for law enforcement to take them to a mental health facility, Bradley said. Under state law, officers can only force someone to get treatment at a hospital if they are a threat to themselves or others.
Before iPads, when someone didn’t meet the criteria for a hospital, Bradley said 911 received more repeat calls from the same people.
An eastern Oklahoma County woman called 911 in crisis over 100 times in 45 days. After she used the iPad to arrange treatment, she stopped calling, he said.
With iPads, repeat 911 calls have decreased because people are no longer “always at the boil,” he said.
In rural Oklahoma, where mental health resources are sometimes hours away, iPads have saved police departments hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in transportation costs and overtime pay, Noble County Sheriff Matt McGuire said. His deputies have 14 iPads and one in the county jail.
“We save ourselves a minimum of three hours, most of the time by having an iPad there immediately,” McGuire said.
He said the iPads take the pressure off an officer to spot the signs of a crisis they’re not trained to assess.
At least one provider has reported a decrease in hospital admissions as more crisis sufferers choose to seek ongoing treatment or obtain medication through a virtual appointment via an iPad.
Grand Mental Health operates clinics in the northeastern part of the state in 12 counties — a region with some of the highest rates of mental health-related cases. Grand has been increasingly using iPads since 2015. The provider reported that telemedicine visits through iPads reduced hospital stays by 93% from 2015 to 2021.
Most of Grand’s patients receive iPads to continue treatment, which has helped reduce the need for inpatient care, said Nick Allgood, chief clinical officer.
Allgood also said that ongoing use of iPads allows clients to get help if they experience another crisis to talk to an on-call doctor. Clients can use the iPads to work through treatment “homework,” like journaling and self-assessments, he said.
“The least restrictive environment tends to have the best results,” Allgood said. “If you can solve a crisis with telehealth without anyone ever having to go to their house, then that’s the best case for results.”