Mental health goes mobile in Grundy Co.

Nichelle and Bill Blakesley of Reinbeck (above) have begun serving with Elevate’s Mobile Crisis Response unit that works to provide onsite mental health services to individuals in crisis situations. Elevate began service in late 2020 and is working to recruit responders like the Blakesleys in rural counties to aid in crisis response times. Darvin Graham/Sun Courier

A new mental health initiative has begun in the Cedar Valley and recently expanded operations to cover Grundy and Tama counties.

Elevate is a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) based out of Waterloo that began in the second half of 2020.

The clinic offers services including mobile crisis response, clinician follow-up, mental health therapy, veteran support, psychiatric evaluation, screenings for HIV hepatitis, medication management and lab testing.

In rural areas outside of Black Hawk County, the primary function of Elevate is the mobile crisis response unit that brings onsite and in-person interventions to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

A team of responders coordinate with local law enforcement agencies as well as the Your Life Iowa hotline to respond to individuals in crisis that may benefit the most from a mental health professional rather than a police officer or someone on the phone.

“With Elevate you don’t have to be a client of ours,” Elevate Mobile Crisis Response Director Jennifer Stevenson said. “We respond with help regardless of your age or your insurance status. Other agencies do have crisis lines and some are just for their patients or for a specific program. I have had mental health counselors call and say, ‘I’m worried about this client. Can you please go?’ Then we go, and we’re physically there with the person. Those programs and crisis lines are still in play and are still very important. We’re just here for everybody, and we arrive at the scene to help during crisis.”

In Grundy County, Elevate partners with the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office to identify opportunities that come through county dispatch where mental health services may provide an appropriate solution either alongside law enforcement or in in their place.

“I think it’s going to ease up on the needs of the law enforcement,” Mobile Crisis Responder Bill Blakesley said. “They’re going to be able to get back to doing their jobs versus, you know, dealing with a mental health crisis they might not be as trained or equipped for. It lets them get back on the roads and protecting everybody else, while we can deal with the situation that may not require law enforcement.”

Blakesley and his wife Nichelle live in Reinbeck and started working as part-time responders for Elevate in January. Nichelle Blakesley works full-time in human services with County Social Services in Black Hawk County where she first learned about the Elevate organization.

She found her way back into the human services field after graduating college with a bachelor’s degree in human services but changing gears and working at the John Deere Foundry for a time.

Bill works full-time for himself in the construction trade but brings a background in the military as a firefighter as well as time spent with high risk youth and adults at the Eldora Training School and in the mental health unit at Allen Hospital to the mobile response team at Elevate.

“After I started my own business, I kind of lost that sense of actually helping people,” Bill Blakesley said. “When Nichelle found this opportunity and decided she was gonna do it, I decided I would tag along with her and get that personal interaction again.”

Nichelle Blakesley said after the two made their first response call with Elevate she felt like she was doing something that helped make a difference.

“I was really excited to hear that they were going into Grundy County,” Nichelle Blakesley said. “I’ve lived in the Reinbeck area pretty much all my life, and I always feel like there’s a stigma with mental health, not just here but everywhere. I do think (the stigma) is more popular in the rural counties. So to have the sheriff on board with using Elevate and bringing awareness that it’s not just a big city issue, you know, it’s everywhere. Chances are you know, somebody with a mental illness that could easily need our services. I think that’s why I’m most excited. That they’re reaching out into the rural communities as well.”

According to Stevenson, when Elevate’s mobile crisis responders arrive they first look to establish common ground with the person in crisis and try to make it so a conversation can begin happening.

Depending on the situation, Elevate mobile response interactions may end with deescalation onsite or may assist a person with checking in at a hospital.

“They work to let the individual know that they’re there for them and their family, because if an individual’s in crisis, the entire family is in crisis,” Stevenson said. “And so it really works well, because our staff is in plain clothes and if an officer was there, it’s just a little different dynamic. So we’re able to approach it differently. We’re able to stay longer and take our time to really find out what’s going on.”

The Blakesleys finished their training with Elevate in early February and have begun taking calls in the Grundy County area over the past week as a part-time commitment on top of their day jobs and as parents to their three sons.

The Blakesleys agreed the ability to work together as a team has been a benefit thus far.

“I really enjoyed working together,” Nichelle Blakesley said. “I think there was a good perspective with having a male and female responder. You never know if a client’s going to prefer talking to a female over a male, so it was really helpful in that aspect. I’m a lot more comfortable with him than going on call with somebody I’ve never met.”

Elevate hopes to recruit additional mobile responders in the coming weeks and months that may be located further out into the rural counties surrounding Waterloo in order to help cut down on response times.

Currently Elevate is active in Tama County, though they are still working on establishing local responders there, and plan to expand further to Allamakee, Cerro Gordo, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Floyd, Hancock, Howard, Mitchell and Winneshiek counties by April 1.

The Blakesleys however feel proud they’re able to be of service to those in their own community and within their own county.

“It gives me a big sense of pride being able to go out and and help people in our communities,” Bill Blakesley said. “I’ve dealt with mental health on my side of the family a lot. And I wish there was something like this back 10 years ago or so. It really does give me a big sense of pride, just be able to help.”

Elevate’s counselors and Mobile Crisis Team can be accessed through the state’s Your Life Iowa line at (855) 581-8111 or by text at (855) 895-8398.