A surge of mental health calls in Scott County has pushed local leaders to seek a dedicated mobile crisis response unit for residents, ending a longtime collaboration with neighboring Carver County.

For 20 years, the Carver-Scott mental health crisis team provided face-to-face emergency intervention and stabilization services for southwest metro residents in an attempt to avoid hospitalization. But last week, the Scott County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to sever that partnership and hire Canvas Health Inc. to develop a more localized approach.

Starting April 2, Canvas Health will begin responding to round-the-clock crisis calls from its third-floor office at the Scott County Law Enforcement Center. Carver County will continue serving Scott residents until then.

Mental health advocates expect faster response times in both counties.

"Waconia all the way to Savage — that's just a long distance," said Scott County Commissioner Barb Weckman Brekke. "It made it harder for crisis response to happen." She said the move will establish a better connection with authorities and help prevent vulnerable adults from landing in jail.

"From a public policy standpoint, it's just so important that we're efficiently using resources and getting people what they need vs. spending a lot of money on emergency rooms and law enforcement when that's not the issue at all," Weckman Brekke said.

Last year, the mobile crisis team recorded 782 distress calls and provided in-person intervention services to 236 people — including 132 adults and 104 children, said Barb Dahl, Scott County's social services director. Suicide attempts were the primary reason for emergency assessments.

Rapid growth in the affluent county prompted government leaders to explore a split from Carver, hoping to improve service.

Canvas Health, one of the state's largest community mental health centers, won the contract with a bid of $353,750 for next year's services. The contract renews annually. The private nonprofit already provides mobile crisis services for Anoka and Washington counties, as well as Scott's after-hours emergency social services.

Funding will come from insurance billing, a grant from the Department of Human Services and an $11,500 share in the county property tax levy.

Pam Selvig, Scott County's Health and Human Services director, said Canvas Health will employ four full-time workers and eight on-call mobile responders for the service. While Carver's approach was more hospital-based, Selvig said Scott's will focus heavily on making contact within two hours to prevent an emergency room visit.

"Oftentimes our folks were being sent to the hospital when, perhaps, they would have preferred that mobile response in their home or somewhere else in the community," Selvig said

Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen said he hopes the response team will act as a preventive service.

"It's not our [natural] skill-set, so we need to find ways to get the professionals in front of individuals who really need them," Hennen said. "This is a start."

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648