If you’ve ever found yourself in a personal crisis — maybe you’re thinking about killing yourself or causing harm to someone else, maybe you’ve lost control of your ability to reason through something, maybe you feel you have nowhere to turn — or maybe you are watching a loved one struggle with issues and you don’t know what to do to help them.


New to the area this past spring, there is now a service composed of individuals who want to use their expertise to help people in crisis talk things out and find the resources they and their family may need.


CICS (Central Iowa Crisis Services), supported by Eyerly Ball Mental Health Services, is a mobile response service that has responded to 35 calls in Story County since it went live in this county on May 29, according to Krystina Engle, director.


Engle and others who work with CICS are hoping to increase awareness for what they are doing and share how they and their volunteers can help residents of Central Iowa. Since March of this year, when their first teams were formed, they are now active in the following counties: Madison, Warren and Jasper with their south team; Greene, Boone, Story and Marshall with their central team and Hardin, Hamilton and Franklin with their north team.


In looking specifically at Story County, Engle said there are 15 individuals who make up the central team as counselors (they now have 53 counselors total in all the teams). “All counselors must meet the guidelines outlined by Chapter 24 in the Iowa Administrative Code,” Engle said. (See informational box with story)


The person who oversees all the team members, who serve as on-call counselors, is Monica VanHorn, Crisis Services supervisor. In her role, VanHorn holds sessions with each counselor, reviews notes, manages the day-to-day schedule and keeps herself available for on-call questions from counselors and Foundation 2’s call center. Foundation 2 is the hub for incoming calls for help.


The way that CICS works is that two-person teams are available for each region around the clock.


“When a dispatch for an individual or family comes in from Foundation 2’s call center, our team is responsible for responding within one hour,” Engle said, noting that response time varies based on a counselor’s location, but the average response time in July was 42 minutes.


“Upon arrival, our team will spend time talking with the client about his or her crisis and any identified stressors in their life. If the client is a dependent adult or a minor, we will gain parent or guardian consent before speaking with him or her,” Engle said. “Our goal on a call is to de-escalate a client’s distress and to ensure their safety. If a client has suicidal or homicidal ideations, our counselors will spend time developing a customized safety plan with them, identifying triggers, warning signs, coping skills and an action plan if symptoms escalate again.”


Engle said if clients are unable to contract for safety in their home, the CICS team can assist getting the client to a hospital. “We can provide transportation when necessary if clients agree to ride safely with us. Our teams are generally successful at stabilizing clients in the field, which frees up the hospital and police resources. In July, we stabilized 26 individuals in the field and took seven individuals to the hospital.”


The work of CICS has become more important due to recently reported shortages of professionals available to serve the mental health community.


“Resources can be difficult for those experiencing a mental health crisis, especially in rural communities,” Engle said. “Law enforcement and hospitals are always available 24/7 to help these individuals, but may not always be the appropriate choice for someone needing to talk to someone. Individuals may be hesitant to reach out to law enforcement or go to the hospital.


“Our team is another option, available 24/7, that meets the individual wherever they are in their time of need. We spend time working with individuals on their struggles and formulating a safety plan. Following the call, our case management team follows up with individuals within 24 hours to determine what additional services or support they may need or could benefit from, and we help establish and facilitate these services,” she said.


Engle’s position, like VanHorn’s, is full-time, as she oversees the leadership team and also helps supervise all of the on-call counselors. She’s also the outreach person of the organization. “I present at all provider, community and law enforcement/first responder meetings that have requested to hear about our services in 11 counties. I sit on many coalitions and committees in order to collaborate with other existing services. I also work closely with our case management team, who performs follow-up for all calls we take as a team for up to 30 days,” she explained.


Her goals for CICS is to continue to spread awareness about the services this organization provides. “We are available 24/7, we serve all ages, we serve anyone as long as they are physically in one of our 11 counties. We do not care if an individual has insurance or what kind of insurance one has. We will not bill an individual for our services.”


Anyone, in Story County or the other counties where CICS is active, who feels this service could be beneficial for someone experiencing a mental health crisis, whether it’s the individual or a family member or a friend, can call into the Crisis Hotline, which is answered by Foundation 2’s Call Center at 1-844-258-8858. Foundation 2 will ask a series of brief questions in order to determine if a response by one of its teams is appropriate.


Foundation 2 does assess for safety on the scene, as well as the willingness of the individual needing its services to speak with our team, since it is a voluntary service.


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An applicant wanting to serve as a counselor with CICS must meet one of the following requirements to be able to respond to calls:


• A mental health professional as defined in Iowa Code section 228.1


• A bachelor’s degree with 30 semester hours or equivalent in a human services field (including, but not limited to, psychology, social work, nursing, education) and a minimum of one year of experience in behavioral or mental health services


• A law enforcement officer with a minimum of two years of experience in the law enforcement officer’s field


• An emergency medical technician (EMT) with a minimum of two years of experience in the EMT’s field


• A peer support specialist with a minimum of one year of experience in behavioral or mental health services


• A family support peer specialist with a minimum of one year of experience in behavioral or mental health services


• A registered nurse with a minimum of one year of experience in behavioral or mental health services


• A bachelor’s degree in a non-human services-related field, associate’s degree, or high school diploma (or equivalency) with a minimum of two years of experience in behavioral or mental health services, and 30 hours of crisis and mental health in-service training (in addition to the required 30 hours of department-approved training)