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Iowa State Daily

New alternative response program connects Ames residents to mental health resources

Courtesy of Lindsay Smith
The Alternative Response for Community Health (ARCH) Dodge Durango has basic medical supplies to treat medical needs, food, water and other aid.

ARCH, or Alternative Response for Community Health is a partnership between Mary Greeley Medical Center, Ames Police Department and ISU Police Department. ARCH, now a year old, offers an alternative to a police response in a mental health crisis.

When a 911 call is placed and considered a crisis not requiring EMS or police, a dispatcher will send the ARCH team to the location. The team also conducts welfare checks requested by family and friends concerned about their loved ones.

ARCH responders are a two-person team that responds to 911 calls involving a mental health crisis. Instead of a police or EMS response, the team comprises a paramedic and a social worker operating out of Mary Greeley Medical Center.

ARCH also aims to provide residents with the necessary resources in a crisis while avoiding unnecessary arrests, hospital visits or deaths.

Nick Toornstra, a paramedic who has worked with ARCH since its start in October 2022, said he believes that people who need help should seek help in any way they feel comfortable.

“We want people to get help,” Toornstra said. “It doesn’t have to be us. We want people who feel that they need help to reach out to whoever makes them feel comfortable getting the help they need.”

Toornstra said he felt ARCH is an option for people to seek resources during a mental health crisis. He said ARCH is another tool to treat those with a mental illness struggling to find resources.

“We’re here to help people, and there’s a lot of resources out there,” Toornstra said.

Lindsay Smith, a social worker, is on the ARCH team and responds to calls with Toornstra. Smith said every call is different and should be evaluated case by case.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” Smith said. “Assessing them for safety is always number one. … From there, it’s figuring out what they need … then just problem-solving on how to make that happen.”

Toornstra said he felt ARCH is also a useful resource for ISU students struggling with mental illness.

“Get the help that you need,” Toornstra said. “Adjusting to college life is difficult, especially if you’re moving from out of state, out of town or out of country. … There are tons of things that can help students, and we want what’s best for everybody, but especially young students who are kind of stepping out on their own.”

Smith stressed the importance of promoting awareness of the program to gain funds.

“ARCH is based on funding,” Smith said. “We’re funded for 60 hours a week, so we’re working on expanding that 60 hours. … For ARCH, it’s about finding the funding.”

ARCH has plans to expand, but Toornstra said this would require more funding through their partnership.

“The need is there 24 hours, but it’s harder to find people to work those hours,” Toornstra said. “So, we want to be available at all times because these things happen at all times of the day. That’s our goal.”

ARCH operates out of Mary Greeley Medical Center, which houses its response vehicle. The team’s Dodge Durango has basic medical supplies to treat medical needs, food, water and other aid. The vehicle can also provide safe shelter and transportation to additional resources, such as a drop-in shelter, food pantry, outpatient mental health facility and more.

The ARCH team is available from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. To learn more about ARCH, visit the webpage.

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  • S

    Sam | Oct 27, 2023 at 9:11 am

    This is certainly a great first step. Hopefully funding can be secured for expansion to a 24/7 program, as mental health doesn’t cease to exist at 3p.m. on the dot 🙂

  • J

    John tack | Oct 26, 2023 at 7:37 pm

    Very well written.