MHART pilot program launches to help students experiencing mental health crises

Counselors and officers together in front of a health care building.When the Dept. of Public Safety are called to respond to mental health calls, a licensed mental health clinician will be part of the response team—Mental Health Assistance & Response Team (MHART).

“The impetus for the program is that we want students in crisis — or potentially in crisis — that are having mental health issues to interact primarily with mental health clinicians as an alternative to law enforcement,” said Steven Siegel, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine.

“Mental health providers will be with the officers when there’s a call, and the mental health providers will ultimately be front and center interacting with the student to help them through the crisis, while public safety is there to support that.”

Erroll Southers, associate senior vice president, safety and risk assurance, said the issue of armed officers responding to students in distress was a frequent topic during community input sessions. The MHART program is specifically designed to improve patient care and comfort, while providing a direct connection with mental health resources, he said.

“The safety and well-being of our university community are our top priorities, and this program is a welcome asset,” said Southers, who also is a professor of practice in national and homeland security at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

The program’s initial hours of operation are Monday through Friday from noon to 8:30 p.m. As the program is rolled out, the goal is to eventually hire more clinicians to expand hours so that by next year the program will be available on weekends and later into the evening.

Read the full story on USC News.