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Brian Harris, Crisis Specialist at Vallejo Crisis Center.

Crisis Specialists

Crisis specialists must determine whether the person’s mental condition makes them a danger to themselves or others. “We see consumers at their worst and have to be able to quickly figure out what they need,” Fairfield crisis specialist Carri Bloom explains. “You have to assure them that it is okay to be in crisis and feel suicidal, just don’t do it. We see clients who are suicidal, homicidal, and with multiple medical problems. We get them stabilized and then see them after they are better. Our goal is to return them to their pre-crisis state and keep them safe. We get them whatever they need to get better. We don’t stop at therapy; we’ll make phone calls to get them whatever collateral services we can.” Bloom will sometimes spend as much as six or seven hours talking to a client.

“When people walk through that door, ... it is time for them to get help... You never know when someone walks out that door. Even if they say they’re not going to hurt themselves, I have to worry about picking up the Vallejo Times the next morning and reading about them on the front page.”

Crisis Specialist Chyral Coleman

When the police pick people up for a possible psychiatric hold, they take them to crisis centers for evaluation. If the staff cannot stabilize the person so that he or she can be released safely, the staff must place the person in a psychiatric facility. And that can be very unpleasant for everyone involved. “There are people who get upset that we won’t let them kill themselves,” Bloom states. Brian Harris, who has worked in the Vallejo Crisis Center for eight years, explains that “some people go kicking and screaming, and some people are happy to go.”

“We are about saving people’s lives,” Harris’s co-worker Chyral Coleman explains. “You don’t have a lot of time to make the evaluation. We have to make sure that they are stable psychiatrically and emotionally before making the decision to release them. Otherwise we have to detain them, and you never know when someone walks out that door. Even if they say they’re not going to hurt themselves, I have to worry about picking up the Vallejo Times the next morning and reading about them on the front page.” In the eight years she has worked crisis, it has happened more than once, and she is still affected by those incidents.

Coleman is a petite, intense woman, with an emotional intensity that warms the entire room. Born in Louisiana, her mother raised her with a country sense of taking people in and helping others. “When people walk through that door, whether by themselves, with family members, or brought in by law enforcement, it is time for them to get help,” she says. She radiates that sense of “emotional holding” therapists talk about. “They are hopeless and helpless and in despair. They often feel persecuted. Then I step in to give them a sense of confidence and a sense of themselves. I tell them to have a seat, to lie down, and to rest themselves. A lot of the people who come in are homeless. They may be hungry and haven’t slept, and that may be why they are disoriented. So I’ll get them some food and some water and give them some hope,” she explains. Her reward is seeing the same people years later. “People will come up to me in the supermarket and say, ‘Miss Chyral, you remember me?’ and they thank me. I know I make a difference in their lives, and I feel this is what I was placed on the earth to do.”

Harris has had the same experiences. “We see people at their worst in crisis, and when they are better we get to see them. It is amazing that you have been able to impact someone’s life in such a positive way.”

Crisis work is not for everyone. “You’re like a human fire extinguisher,” states clinical social worker Chris Petrone, who used to work crisis and now works with adult out- patients doing case management. It was a great learning experience, but a little too frenetic. Working crisis burns people out, and the chronic short staffing doesn’t help. Workers sometimes find themselves working back-to-back shifts. With the budget crisis, Solano County has not been filling vacant positions, and low morale is setting in.

Workers are proud of what they do but feel that management doesn’t fully appreciate and support them. Bloom loves her job and the feeling of working with other dedicated people. “I just wish they could come down and see what we do,” she states.