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Nash County Sheriff's Office begins new mental health initiative

The Nash County Sheriff’s Office in collaboration with Integrated Family Services PLLC recently unveiled a new Co-Responder Outreach Specialist program, the first of its kind in the state.

The Co-Responder Outreach Specialist program is a criminal justice diversion model in which Nash County Sheriff’s Office personnel are paired with mental health professionals with the goal to intervene and respond to assist people who fall outside of normal criminal actions.

“We were looking at new ways to interact with the community and an opportunity came forward through Trillium, which is the mental health care organization in the area,” Nash County Chief Deputy Brandon Medina said. “They had indicated that there were some grant funds available, so we applied for those.”

Coordinating with Trillium’s Integrated Family Services allows deputies to have access to another resource when dealing with people who have mental health issues, developmental disabilities, drug problems or traumatic brain injuries that interfere with their ability to think clearly for themselves, Medina said.

The Co-Responder Outreach Specialist model involves a qualified mental health professional being embedded in the sheriff’s office. These individuals will co-respond to community locations after being dispatched by officers.

“As long as people are nonviolent when the deputies get to the scene and the situation falls into one of those four categories, we can contact Integrated Family Services. A qualified mental health professional will go to the scene and get consent from the individuals before treatment. They will do an assessment and evaluate the needs before directing the patients to the proper agencies or resources,” Medina said.

The planning at the end of the encounter depends on several unique factors, and outcomes can range from leaving the individual with necessary resources, providing education about the behavioral health system, transporting the individual to a hospital or walk-in clinic or providing support and resources for family members and others at the scene.

The Co-Responder Outreach Specialist program also will follow up with individuals after they leave the initial encounter to ensure that all identified needs are addressed, according to a statement from the Nash County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are truly excited to see the Co-Responder Outreach Specialist program come to our community and to partner with Integrated Family Services,” Medina said. “This program will connect citizens with integral services. With this program, our deputies will be able to clear from certain calls and return to service to conduct proactive policing or respond to other calls.”

Medina said that the coordinated effort not only benefits people by connecting them to the help they need but also helps them avoid arrest and time in a detention center that is already crowded.

Natasha Holley, clinical director of Integrated Family Services, said the goal of the program is to improve outcomes.

“The goal of the Co-Responder Outreach Specialist program is to ultimately increase service access to individuals in need of behavioral health services in Nash County,” she said. “This service, which is funded by Trillium Health Resources for its members, will provide an opportunity for law enforcement officers and mental health professionals to collaborate in a community response to better serve individuals with behavioral health issues.”

The other part of the program involves training deputies and detention officers in Mobile Crisis Training, Medina said.

“An average person would see a combative person or somebody who went through this training would see that they need some time for intervention,” Medina said.

Most of the deputies dealing with the public already had this type of training before the new Co-Responder Outreach Specialist program officially launched, Medina said.

Though some of these concepts have been part of the national discussion of some recent “defunding the police” conversations focused on redirecting community resources, Medina said this collaborative program has been in the works for some time.

“This is something we had thought about way before the COVID situation,” he said.

The grant funding for the program is initially for one year. However, Medina said the grant may be renewed if it proves to be beneficial.

“We are tracking data and outcomes for the program this year,” he said. “We are already seeing results, and I think the effort will justify the sustainability of the program.”

United Way launches annual campaign with car giveaway

The United Way Tar River Region celebrated its upcoming 70th anniversary with its 2021 United Way Campaign Kick-Off and Car Giveaway on Thursday at Davenport Autopark.

All United Way donors who contributed at least $100 were entered into a drawing to win a free lease on a 2021 Honda Accord. Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant retiree Loretta Woodard was the winner and took home the Accord on a lease for one year or 12,000 miles.

Donations are critical to supporting and sustaining the many programs provided by the 24 United Way Community partners, campaign Co-Chairwoman Jackie Lewis said.

“There were over 5,720 youth and families who were impacted by United Way programs that encouraged lifelong success,” she said. “Through United Way programs, there were 2,232 people in our community that received services geared toward improving their physical and mental well-being. Also through United Way programs, 52,591 lives were given hope and tools to live independently. Our success could not have happened without the support of many of you.”

United Way Tar River Region Executive Director Ginny Mohrbutter said United Way donors have the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves and to be part of a collective effort through United Way to foster positive change in the community.

“Donations are like an investment in our local citizens — helping individuals, children and families in three key areas: education, health and income self-sufficiency,” she said. “In just the past 10 years, we have fundraised and invested $13 million in our community through important nonprofit programs, ensuring it goes where the needs are the greatest and the impact most profound.

“Each year, our United Way mobilizes over 6,000 donors, 250 volunteers, 100 giving campaigns and various community development projects and partnerships with the end goal to provide quality of life support to local citizens,” she said.

Campaign Co-Chairman Rick McMahon closed out the event by thanking all the United Way campaign donors.

“Your support is the bridge from despair to hope for so many,” he said. “As always, we need your help to raise $1 million for Nash and Edgecombe counties. With the help of our community, I am confident that we can reach this goal.”

State insurance commissioner honors fire department

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey more than 11 months ago appeared in the Rocky Mount City Council chamber to recognize the fire department for being in an elite category in the Tar Heel State and in the nation.

During the Aug. 23 council regular meeting, Causey, who also is the state fire marshal, presented the fire department with an award recognizing the department for having turned 125 years old.

Earlier during the council meeting, City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, as part of her routine community update, expressed appreciation to members of the department’s Swiftwater Emergency Response Team, which recently assisted in response to the flooding, loss of life and property in the western part of the state resulting from Tropical Storm Fred.

Small-Toney said the team was deployed for four days at the state Emergency Management Western Branch Office in Conover before returning on Aug. 22.

Causey, moments before he presented the fire department with the award for the department’s 125 years of service, told Small-Toney he echoed her remarks because he had just returned from the mountains.

Causey noted the state Department of Insurance had an assistance center for storm victims set up in Waynesville in Haywood County.

Causey told the Rocky Mount officials they would not believe the disaster in Haywood, Transylvania and Henderson counties and in the Mills River area.

Causey said residents in affected areas experienced as much as 20 inches of rain in just a couple of hours on a Sunday.

“And then two days later, they had another rain. And that’s why the ground was so wet that some of those mountains just collapsed,” he said.

He also told of a man who went outside his residence to check on some water drainage and was subsequently buried as a result of a mudslide, and of talking to produce farmers who lost the bulk of their crops.

Causey went on to express his appreciation to Rocky Mount for sending the Swiftwater Emergency Response Team.

“It was just so heartwarming to see the response from our fire departments all across North Carolina,” he said. “I even met park rangers from Kentucky and other states that had come into North Carolina to help.”

Mayor Sandy Roberson expressed appreciation to Causey for coming and presenting the award honoring the Rocky Mount Fire Department.

“It’s a great tribute that you take the time to do this,” Roberson said.

On July 17, the department partly celebrated 125 years of service with a community event at the John P. Sykes Training Ground off Atlantic Avenue.

The event showed how firefighters descend from a tower to rescue a person in need of medical assistance and what happens when a fire breaks out in a residential room without a sprinkler system versus one with a sprinkler system.

The event also showed how firefighters respond to a wrecked car and to a propane tank on fire.

The other part of the celebration occurred later in the evening with a gathering on the lawn of the Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station downtown.

During the Sept. 14, 2020, council regular meeting, Causey presented city Fire Chief Corey Mercer with a certificate to show the fire department improved a notch to the highest rating for a fire department in North Carolina.

The department’s history can be traced to 1894, when then-Mayor T.H. Battle appointed then-Town Councilmen H.T. Bauman and J.C. Braswell to canvass what was the town of Rocky Mount and determine whether a volunteer fire company could be organized.

In 1896, the then-Town Council approved the first organized fire company.

That fire company consisted of 26 African American men. They operated a ladder wagon and bucket brigade from the 100 block of East Thomas Street.

Virus cases still surging among unvaccinated people

An increasing number of people being diagnosed with COVID-19 continue to affect the nation’s health care system.

In North Carolina, data reported on the state’s COVID-19 Dashboard shows the number of daily cases reported bottomed out at 55 on June 26. That was the lowest daily total since 50 cases were reported on March 24, 2020.

After reaching 7,020 cases on Aug. 19, the daily count has been on a generally downward slide as more and more people get vaccinated, although there are days when numbers once again jump — like Wednesday, when the number of cases jumped to 6,130 from 4,623 the day before.

In eastern North Carolina, Vidant Health System — with hospitals in nine communities — has not been affected like some cited in news reports where patients are being turned away because of a lack of beds.

As of Wednesday morning, Vidant had 158 patients with COVID-19, said Brian Wudkwych, Vidant’s manager of public relations. Of those 158, 45 are in intensive care and 26 require ventilators.

Wudkwych said about 90 percent of the 158 patients were not vaccinated.

He said Vidant’s nine hospitals have 1,708 licensed beds, although the exact available bed count on any given day depends on staffing and resources.

“Although we currently have the resources to serve patients seeking our care, we are concerned that this may be impacted if the virus continues its rapid spread,” he said. “That is why we need all eligible community members to receive their vaccine as soon as possible.”

Even though there are currently available beds, both Vidant Health and Nash UNC Health Care have made adjustments in light of the rapidly spreading delta variant of COVID-19.

Earlier this week, Nash UNC Health Care announced that all elective surgeries that require an overnight stay in the hospital will be postponed indefinitely.

The hospital said urgent and emergent surgeries still will be performed, as will outpatient surgeries. Patients will be contacted by their care team if their case is to be rescheduled.

“We are seeing a rapid influx of patients needing hospitalization from COVID,” Nash UNC Health Care President and CEO Lee Isley said. “This decision to postpone elective surgeries is to ensure the safety of our patients as well as prioritize resources and staff for the urgent and emergent medical needs of our community.”

Isley said no surgery or procedure will be postponed that would cause harm to a patient.

Earlier, both systems had made changes to their visitation policy.

Effective Aug. 13, Vidant tightened its rules for visitors, no longer allowing visitors in either emergency department lobbies or waiting areas at the hospitals across Vidant’s system.

Vidant allows patients in emergency departments to have one healthy adult visitor screened and masked at all times once the patient has been placed in a room, as long as the patient is not COVID positive.

Effective Aug. 18 at Nash UNC, non-COVID inpatients were permitted to have two visitors at the same time but will no longer require them to be the same designated visitors for the duration of their stay. Children 12 and under will no longer be exempt from the policy and must be included in the two visitors at a time maximum count.

The Women’s Center is also allowing two visitors at a time as well as one additional support personnel, such as a doula, to help accommodate various patient birthing plans.

The emergency department returned to its pre-COVID visitation policy, which requires patients to identify two visitors as their designated visitors. The designated visitors may visit the patient at the same time.

The Pediatric Emergency Department is also allowing two designated visitors per patient at the same time.

Authorities seize car, seek driver who fled traffic stop

After a high-speed chase, a single-car wreck and a manhunt involving multiple law enforcement agencies, the owner of a Lexus is still on the run but his car has been seized under the state’s “Run and You’re Done” law.

The incident occurred about 8:30 p.m. Thursday. State Highway Patrol troopers tried to stop a white Lexus speeding west on U.S. 64 toward Nashville, according to a statement from Sgt. Vick of the State Highway Patrol. Instead of stopping for law enforcement officers, the driver fled to elude the traffic stop.

The Lexus ended up off the road in a grassy area near the intersection of Old Carriage Road and U.S. 64. Vick said the driver of the car, who was the only occupant, fled the scene into the nearby wooded area. The area was blocked off as a crime scene while law enforcement officers searched for the driver.

Members of the Nashville Police Department and the Nash County Sheriff’s Office raced to the scene and joined the search. More than a dozen vehicles responded to the scene.

“We are grateful for the good relationships we have with our partner agencies who come to our aid,” Vick said.

After a lengthy search involving multiple agencies and K-9 officers, the driver was not located.

Vick said the vehicle, which had minor damage, was seized at the site under the state’s “Run and You’re Done” law. According to N.C. Gen. Stat. Section 20-141.5, which was enacted in 2011, “the motor vehicle that was driven by the defendant at the time the defendant committed the offense of felony speeding to elude arrest becomes property subject to forfeiture.”

“We really need people just to pull over when we initiate a traffic stop,” Vick said. “We need everyone to be safe and to arrive at their destinations unharmed.”

The incident remains under investigation. The name of the owner of the car has not been released.