OPINION: Assembly is expanding Anchorage mental health services

Starting this July, the Municipality’s Mobile Crisis Team (MCT), also referred to as Mental Health First Responders, will begin operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, greatly increasing coverage from the current 10 hours a day. The Mobile Crisis Team is an Anchorage Fire Department program that pairs a paramedic with a mental health clinician to respond to mental health crises. The MCT de-escalates crises and connects folks to the community services they need -- all while taking pressure off of the Anchorage Police Department, which no longer is responsible for responding to mental health incidents unless specifically needed, and without raising property taxes. We led the recent effort to increase funding for this program and thank our colleagues for overriding Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of this funding.

This innovative program began last June after several years of work by the Anchorage Assembly and the Berkowitz and Quinn-Davidson administrations to study MCT models across the country, coordinate with community partners and establish funding through the newly created alcohol tax. This expansion of the Mobile Crisis Team will satisfy a vital need in our public safety net and is another step in Anchorage’s implementation of Crisis Now -- a nationally-recognized model to deliver behavioral health crisis care -- which has long been a goal of community mental health experts. The Crisis Now model contains three key components: a call center that is the first point of contact for those experiencing crises; mobile crisis teams to respond to crises; and short-term stabilization centers where those experiencing mental health crises can go. Programs using this model prevent suicide, provide the best supports for individuals in crisis, reduce unneeded stress on emergency rooms and correctional settings, and free up our police and fire teams to focus on other public safety needs.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services have been working for several years to establish Crisis Now on a statewide level and the expansion of the Anchorage Mobile Crisis Team to 24-7 is a huge step toward realizing that goal. The 24-7 Mobile Crisis Team will complement private and nonprofit stabilization services that will come online later this year and next, bringing Anchorage another step closer to having a comprehensive behavioral health crisis response system.

Expansion of this successful program is a win-win for our community and a sound financial investment. The Anchorage Fire Department has already laid the groundwork to bill Medicaid for this program, but Medicaid requires that it be offered 24/7 to do so. Starting July 1, Medicaid will reimburse close to 25% of expenses, delivering an increased value for our city’s investment. In all, the program will cost the city $2.5 million per year and is covered entirely by the alcohol tax, providing a great return on investment and enabling a more efficient use of property tax funds for other public safety services.

The MCT is delivering real and meaningful results. In an early case reported in the Anchorage Daily News, a man who visited the emergency room roughly 70 times per year was able to go months without needing an emergency room visit after receiving mental health services from AFD. Having the MCT specifically available to respond to mental health crises means that AFD is also better able to focus its responses to urgent physical crises, like heart attacks.

The Anchorage Assembly was able to add this expansion in services because of increased alcohol tax revenues. We have a vision for the future where all residents are safe and healthy, and we are committed to wisely using municipal resources to bring maximum benefit to the community.

If you or a loved one need the services of the Mobile Crisis Team, please call 311. If it is an emergency, call 911 and request the Mobile Crisis Team.


Austin Quinn-Davidson, Meg Zaletel and Forrest Dunbar are members of the Anchorage Assembly.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.