Stretching to Cover the Gaps

Lane County hopes to launch a mobile crisis response team similar to CAHOOTS to serve all mental health crisis calls across the entire county

Lane County hopes to launch a 24-hour mobile crisis response team on June 1 that will deliver mental health services from the coast to the foot of the Cascades — if the county can find enough qualified people to make it work.

The new Mobile Crisis Response Team, based on a nationwide model similar to  Eugene’s CAHOOTS program, is part of a national movement toward sending trained workers to help people in mental health crises, rather than calling in police. 

Too often, county officials say, police without adequate mental health training have by default become the front-line response for people experiencing a mental health crisis, a situation county officials call “unacceptable and unsafe.”

Pauline Gichohi, Lane County’s Behavioral Health Division manager, says trained crisis teams can diffuse situations, calling in police only when necessary.

“We don’t want the first response to be law enforcement,” Gichohi says.

County officials want to locate teams so that they’re within an hour’s drive to every person in the county. Gichohi says teams will meet people where they are located, providing stabilizing, trauma-informed care and helping them connect with local care providers. The teams can also deliver harm-reduction supplies, such as Narcan, which can help revive people experiencing an opioid overdose.

“We want to be thoughtful about how we provide this service to the entire residency of the county,” Gichohi  says.

For the past five years, a pilot program has operated in the Western Lane Fire and EMS Authority, which covers Florence and the surrounding areas. 

Just as it currently operates, the county confirms that when needed, the response will “escalate” to police and EMS as needed.

The expansion is driven by state law and the Oregon Health Authority, which now requires mental crisis response teams for all community mental health programs. Lane County expects the team to cost $5 million a year, with another $825,000 in startup costs, according to county documents. County officials say the program will initially be paid for by state funds, but the county will eventually cover bills through health insurance providers, the Oregon Health Plan and Medicaid. 

Gichohi says the county is now struggling to find enough qualified practitioners. 

The county needs 40 total staff members to field a full force, including supervisors, peer support specialists and front-line mental crisis practitioners. County spokesman Jason Davis said a “surprising number” of people are seeking the jobs, but there are not yet enough qualified applicants to fill the positions. 

“Realistically, for us to be 24/7, we are looking at six months to a year, and that is if we can find the people to hire,”  Gichohi says. “We still have a long way to go, We’re not quite there yet.”

One major question also remains: If people need a place to go for stabilization, where will the mental crisis teams take them? 

Lane County faces a serious shortage of crisis beds. Some officials have said the Lane County jail now serves as the de facto mental health crisis center. PeaceHealth made matters worse when it closed its University District Hospital emergency room, where police often took people for mental health holds. 

Gichohi says the long-range plan is for the county to build a 42-bed stabilization center, a long-delayed $30 million project that currently has no set date to break ground, pending a funding solution. Davis says the proposed center faces a $5 million-a-year funding gap even before it opens. Pending filling of that $5 million-a-year gap, no services will be offered at the proposed stabilization center.

According to Davis, the county will embark on a fundraising campaign March 11, sourcing donations from people across Lane County. He says that through community-based micro fundraising, the county and the state will both see that the community is behind this plan, before turning to larger organizations for donations.

“And since we’re only about halfway funded, [hopefully] half of it will be organically generated within the community,” Davis says. 

This story was developed in partnership with the Local Reporting Initiative of the Catalyst Journalism Project at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. To learn more, visit