Schnucks trains employees to respond to mental health crises

Street. Louis (KMOV) – Schnucks Store Manager Armin Medzic has a wide range of responsibilities, from checking products, checking staff, rearranging inventory, and now helping someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

“I’ll be ready,” Medic said. “I mean, the training was good for putting us in a position where we could get close to this person.”

If someone within the Hampton Village location threatens to harm themselves or others, Armin is trained to de-escalate the situation until a Behavioral Health Response (BHR) Officer arrives on the scene along with a St. Louis Metropolitan Police officer.

“We’re a team,” explained Maddy Baker-Wilmes, a behavioral health crisis response physician. “The officers we are with are CIT trained, and they provide that extra support in case we go to the scene with a gun, but our doctors usually do most of the talking, de-escalation, and providing those resources.”

“We’re all trying to find solutions to help people in a crisis,” said Matthew Redmond, Schnucks’ director of security.

BHR now responds to all eight Schnucks locations in the City of St. Louis. This group of stores includes the South Grand location, which News 4 reported in August due to challenges with displaced individuals harassing customers and loitering.

Behavioral Health Response’s COO, Tiffany Lacey-Clark, told News 4 that Schnucks Impact is a first in the region to create this kind of partnership that creates immediate change.

“Having this conversation helps,” Lacy-Clark explained. Because now we’re talking about behavioral health. There are people who walk into grocery stores that are in crisis, and now on bad days, there are people who can respond to that.”

BHR said that 70 percent of people who call the 988 crisis line in St. Louis are not associated with any health care provider of any kind. Since the 988 went online over the summer, BHR St. Louis crews have responded to more than 9,000 calls, Baker-Wilmes said. This speaks to the unmet needs in our society.

Redmond said this new service is possible thanks to St. Louis’ 911 conversion program. He said he hopes to expand to all Schnucks locations.

“This is something we would like to expand on in the future, by partnering with BHR, the City of St. Louis and County, and throughout the region. It benefits everyone,” Redmond said.

Shoppers News4 spoke to said the program moves society forward.

“I think it’s good for that person and the customers, and everyone involved,” said Shopper Booker Peterson.

“Most people turn a blind eye, they just don’t want to look at it,” shopper Ed Wortman explained. “They don’t want to deal with it. It’s good that people in the store are looking for these kinds of things.”

As for Midzic, he sees monitoring people in need as another way to help and that is the client.

“It was actually an eye opener,” Medzic said. “It gave us a different approach, like from my curiosity rather than my accusation.”

The partnership between the City of St. Louis, SLMPD, Behavioral Health Response, and Schnucks is no cost to the customer. The grocer faces the bill to train his employees. To date, approximately 45 employees have received this training.

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