Volusia County Sheriff’s Office partners with healthcare nonprofit to help people in crisis

Officers will have iPads to allow people to speak with healthcare specialists

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with SMA Healthcare, a private nonprofit, that specializes in behavioral healthcare and substance abuse, to launch a program that will connect mental healthcare professionals with people in crisis.

On Thursday, Florida Power & Light presented a $10,000 check that will provide 12 iPads to supervisors in the sheriff’s office that will make that connection happen.

The iPads will allow sheriff’s office staff to help a person in crisis speak with a healthcare professional over a video call immediately.

“We’re dealing more and more with people who are in a mental crisis,” said Sheriff Mike Chitwood. “If we think the decision is made that they need to speak to a licensed professional for time constraints, you just get the person to do a zoom call on the iPad and hand the iPad over to the person in crisis or hand the iPad to the family member. Then we can get a plan together where we might not even have to show up or we don’t have to go in and use force.”

Chitwood said having background information on people with mental health issues right at their fingertips will help de-escalate a situation.

“Some of the things we need to know is that person in crisis may not like uniforms, may not like a marked police car or sirens. Well, there are things to know because that will structure our response,” he said.

Dr. Rhonda Harvey, CEO of SMA Healthcare said the program will have her staff intervene before a crisis escalates that sometimes lands a person in jail where she believes is the wrong place for them to be.

“Our goal is to really be able to take that warm handoff from law enforcement. Let them get on their way with safety patrols and doing everything that they do to keep us safe and then let us take the individual and their family and work with them to really have a more favorable outcome,” she said.

Chitwood said the program will start next year in Deltona and if successful, it will be implemented throughout the county.

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