By Jamie Leary

DILLON, Colo. (CBS4) – A program in Summit County aimed at responding to those in the midst of a mental health crisis has caught the attention of state leaders. Earlier this month Gov. Jared Polis traveled to Dillon to talk to community leaders about what makes the Summit County model so successful.

Gov. Jared Polis and other state leaders meet with community leaders in Summit County.(credit: CBS)

“First of all, we build it from the community up as opposed to law enforcement down, which is really important,” said Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons.

The SMART program, or System-wide Mental Assessment Response, launched in Summit County just last year, and FitzSimons said it was an idea brought forward by the community and tailored to what the community of Summit County needs. That’s what makes it unique, but also what makes it work.

“There’s a lot of community support with this team. The other thing is, it’s a plain-clothed response meaning they don’t show up in uniform. They do show up as a team, and they show up in plain clothes, an unmarked car, and they go into all the towns here in the jurisdictions of Summit County so it’s a county-wide response,” he said.

The response also always involves a deputy paired with a clinician. That’s the co-response part of the program, but it extends beyond just that initial contact.

“They have a third component to their team which is a case manager, so I always describe it as, in a moment of crisis, it’s the deputy and the clinician. They have the heavy lift in the moment of crisis and stabilization — and stabilizing that person in the community. On the back end is the case manager who comes in now and provides the wrap-around service for continued stabilization,” said FitzSimons.

(credit: CBS)

Over the last 10 months, the co-response has saved hundreds of people from landing in the emergency room, saved the ER from overflowing and saved the county money. FitzSimons and his team estimate that for every person they can help avoid a trip to the ER it saves county around $15,000.

“This year so far in the first 10 months of this year were just over $2 million. It’s a huge number, but more importantly it’s the amount of people we’ve stabilized versus sending people off to a higher level of care or crushing our ER. We’ve stabilized an incredible amount of people what we say ‘in place’ whether it be home wherever that place is, but not going to a higher level of care that’s what crushed the community.”

FitzSimons believes any community can take the program and make it successful, but what works in Summit County will likely be different for Denver. In Summit County the start-up cost for the program is around $425,000 and while its been a successful program, funding has been one of the biggest hurdles.

Jamie Leary