County Expands On-The-Scene Emergency Mental Health Services

Photo of woman who appears to be in distress.

If someone is suffering from a substance abuse crisis or a suicide attempt, it is critical that they receive mental health services as soon as possible.

That is the goal for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB), which recently expanded its ability to provide on-the-scene emergency mental health services with the addition of a second fully operational Mobile Crisis Unit (MCU). The two MCUs help residents in crisis situations in the community, including emergencies when individuals are unable or unwilling to come to the CSB emergency services office.

Launching the second MCU is part of the county’s “Diversion First” initiative, which offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness and other disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses.

“We are ecstatic to have a second MCU. This allows us to expand our mobile crisis capability and outreach. We had so many competing demands on our one MCU, that we couldn’t always respond as quickly as people needed.” Belinda Massaro, Manager, CSB Mobile Crisis Units


How Does It Work?


Photo of the county's Mobile Crisis Unit staff.

Mobile Crisis Unit staff

Each MCU is staffed by a rotating team of CSB emergency services personnel who travel to the emergency scene in a county car. The primary MCU (“MCU 1”) has a two-person team for each shift and operates seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to midnight. The second MCU (“MCU 2”) provides one additional staff member (and vehicle) five days a week (Monday – Friday), from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. The one-person MCU can respond to emergencies in settings that are relatively safe, such as a hospital or jail. This frees up the two-person MCU 1 to respond to situations in higher risk environments, where having a partner is critical.


Local and Regional Requests for Assistance

In addition to responding to requests from individuals and families in the community, the MCUs respond to emergency requests from police and other law enforcement agencies, community colleges, schools, the CIA, Fort Belvoir, Homeland Security, the FBI, the Secret Service, Dulles Airport and local hospitals. MCU staff is on call 24/7 to respond to hostage/barricade situations and major emergencies in the region when emergency mental health expertise is required, such as at the Pentagon after 9/11. The MCUs also respond to requests for assistance from other Fairfax County government agencies.

“While we still have to triage based upon risk criteria, our ability to respond to the concerned citizen, family member or community-based hospital has greatly improved,” explained MCU supervisor Steven Black.


Providing Help After the Emergency

The MCU can be particularly effective in helping individuals who are hesitant about seeking mental health services, Black explains, giving the example of a homeless veteran who needs mental health treatment but distrusts the VA.

“We are able to help individuals who are reticent about linking to the public mental health system develop the trust needed for them to work with the CSB on linking to treatment. Once this is accomplished, the CSB is better able to assist the individual in linking to comprehensive health care. That truly becomes a win for the individual and for the county as a whole,” Black said.

“Families are so grateful for the assistance we can provide in very difficult situations,” said Massaro. “It is very rewarding to be able to intervene in a crucial moment in a person’s life and provide some guidance, to affect people in a positive way.”


Photo of county's Merrifield Center.

The Merrifield Center

To contact CSB Emergency Services (and the Mobile Crisis Unit) call 703-573-5679. CSB Emergency Services is available 24/7, 365 days a year, and is located at the Merrifield Center, 8221 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, Fairfax, VA 22031

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