Starting next year, Washington County will operate its own mobile crisis response unit for residents, replacing similar services now offered through a contract with Canvas Health.

Earlier this month, the County Board approved the hiring of the equivalent of nearly 12 full-time staff members to make up the new crisis response unit. Those social workers will take calls and, if needed, provide face-to-face interventions for adults and children in a mental health crisis.

“This team will reach out to those who are most vulnerable in our community,” said Sarah Amundson, with the county’s Community Services Division.

For nearly two decades, the county has contracted with Canvas Health to offer crisis services. Last year, Canvas Health took 4,299 calls and responded in-person to 377 individuals in Washington County. Amundson expects those numbers to rise next year once the services are offered more locally.

“It’s an important responsibility we need to take on,” Amundson said. “When it’s in-house, we have more control over how the services are handled and controlled.”

The cost for the unit is estimated at $1.1 million annually. To fund the unit, the county has budgeted $350,000 in levy funds and $460,000 in allocated grant funds. That’s in addition to recapturing $105,000 in joint funding with Ramsey County and anticipated federal reimbursements.

A mobile crisis team can help divert people in crisis from psychiatric hospitalization, assess their needs and connect them with other services.

Kathy Mickelson, also with the Washington County Community Services Division, hopes the team’s work will cultivate collaboration with law enforcement, hospitals, foster care providers and other groups who may work with those with mental health concerns.

“This is going to really help the public and the stakeholders,” Mickelson said.