To the editor: I’m writing in response to a recent letter ("Letter: Pittsfield can look to other cities to improve crisis response policies," Eagle, May 7) that contained disappointing inaccuracies.
It read: “Currently, access to crisis counseling and response is limited to an unknown crisis 800 number or the over utilized emergency room at Berkshire Medical Center.”
In fact, the Brien Center has provided around-the-clock crisis interventions throughout Berkshire County for more than 40 years. Launched in 1980, the Crisis Team was organized to assess and stabilize people experiencing a mental health crisis and keep them out of the hospital. All these years later, a call to the Brien Center’s emergency hotline (800-252-0227) will activate a member of our Crisis Team, who will meet people in their homes, schools or wherever an intervention can be provided with the least disruption to their lives.
The team includes 18 full-time staff, 6 part-time staff, and 15 per-diem workers. All of them are highly-skilled and compassionate clinicians who are trained to help individuals who are sometimes experiencing the worst moments of their lives.
In 2020, the Brien Center Crisis Team responded to 3,888 behavioral health emergencies throughout the Berkshires. Of that number, 762 of the interventions were for children in crisis. In 2021, we provided 3,737 interventions for adults and children. So far this year, our team has responded to 1,136 calls for emergency help.
When requested by local or state police, a Brien Center clinician accompanies an officer as a co-responder on calls with a behavioral health component. This began in Pittsfield in 2016 and has since expanded across the Berkshires. In 2021, one of our clinicians joined an officer on 81 calls.
By far, the greatest threat to crisis intervention is a shortage of trained clinicians and other positions. This is a serious and well-documented workforce issue that agencies like ours are facing all over the country. We are doing all we can, extending our resources and staff as far as possible, to address this serious need. We hope that a new state budget will include higher reimbursements for the care we deliver, spurring higher salaries to attract and retain qualified staff.
In the meantime, crisis care in Berkshire County is far from “an unknown 800 number.” It is a vital and essential service that saves lives every day.
Rebecca Phelps-Smith, Pittsfield
The writer is a clinical social worker and director of Acute Care Services at The Brien Center.