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by Charlotte Smith

Over the past several years mental health issues and substance misuse overdoses continue to increase not only in Bladen County but across the state and nation. Last week five Bladen County EMS first responders graduated from the Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) training in partnership with Eastpointe MCO/LME.

The purpose of Eastpointe and other local management entities/managed care organizations (LME/MCO) is to deliver Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse (MH/DD/SA) services by using grant funding from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the North Carolina Health and Human Services Agency. The funding is required to be used to authorize, pay for, manage, and monitor MH/DD/SA providers and services. Currently, Eastpointe is the LME/MCO of Bladen and nine other counties in North Carolina.

David D Howell, Paramedic and EMS Director for Bladen County EMS stated, “As in many rural areas, behavioral health treatment services/resources are not readily available. Whether it be the loss of a job, death of a loved one, or the breakup of a marriage, trauma and mental health concerns can result in unexpected violent outcomes. Bladen County EMS is committed to working with all our providers to provide the needed training for our EMS providers to best serve our citizens.”

Mr. Howell explained during the graduation ceremony, “Bladen County EMS and Eastpointe partnered together to have a 20 hours Crisis Intervention Team training for some of our EMS providers. CIT training helps first responders better recognize citizens dealing with a mental health challenge or an intellectual or developmental disability. It teaches them how to de-escalate stressful situations and ensures they can connect those in crisis with the resources and healthcare they need. As the mental health challenges created by COVID continue to grow for area residents, so too is the need for this training.”


The CIT week-long training included role-playing scenarios first responders may encounter in the field and roundtable discussions with citizens with behavioral health challenges. The goal of these techniques is to learn to respond with empathy after recognizing a behavioral health issue.

Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) use the methods taught in their training to offer immediate, short-term help to individuals who experience an event that produces emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral distress or problems. This training is for those who are the first on the scene with a person experiencing a behavioral health crisis. The CIT training was developed by the North Carolina CIT Advisory committee for law enforcement, emergency medical services (EMS), fire, corrections officers, telecommunications, and other public safety personnel to reduce the unnecessary incarcerations of persons with mental illness, decrease first responders and consumers’ injury rates, improve community relationships, and decrease the costs to the criminal justice system.

Mr. Howell said, “The CIT training improves our EMS providers’ attitude and knowledge about mental illness. The training provided gives the education needed to more effectively manage crisis events within the community. With proper training, we can better help individuals get access to appropriate treatment and resources, rather than be placed in the hospital emergency room.”

Ms. Laura Strickland, a Paramedic with Bladen County stood as she said, “We had great instructors and great presenters throughout this whole experience. We have also had activities that really involved us and got us to the level of some of these people in crisis that we are going to.”

One training Ms. Strickland spoke about was the “Hearing Voices” activity. “A lot of times we are called out to what may be one of the worst days of somebody’s life and we have gotten a deeper dive into what it can be like for them,” Ms. Strickland noted, “We took an iPod and we were listening to voices in our ears the entire time we were doing different activities and by the end of it we were ready to turn those voices off.”

The Bladen County EMS graduates are above left to right: Karlie Hill, Paramedic, Jamie Rivera, Paramedic Captain, Laura Strickland, Paramedic, and Kyle Meismer, Paramedic.

Eastpointe’s Chief of Regulations and Compliance, Theresa Edmondson, congratulated the CIT graduates and offered them a certificate and a lapel pin in recognition of their training. The Bladen County EMS graduates were Jamie Rivera, Paramedic Captain, Kyle Meismer, Paramedic, Amelia Batten, Advanced EMT, Laura Strickland, Paramedic, and Karlie Hill, Paramedic.

Since 2009 when the CIT training was first endorsed by the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission, according to Ms. Edmondson, Eastpointe has trained around 1,500 first responders in Bladen, Duplin, Edgecome, Greene, Lenoir, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland, Wayne, and Wilson Counties.

Ms. Edmondson announced at the graduation ceremony, “In Bladen County, we have trained 55 individuals and now we can add you to that list, that will be 61 now that we have trained in Bladen County. Thirty-one (31) are from the Sheriff’s Department, seven (7) from EMS prior to you guys, six (6) from DPS (Department of Public Safety) and five (5) from the Elizabethtown Police Department, and four (4) from the Bladen County Detention Center, and then two (2) folks from the 911 center. We are delighted we were able to do this.” (The total CIT graduates in Bladen County maybe 60 and not 61, according to the numbers Ms. Edmondson gave during her presentation.)

“We know our future with Bladen County is short,” Ms. Edmondson mentioned, “perhaps if everything goes through with the move to Trillium.”

Ms. Edmondson’s statement referred to the Bladen County Board of Commissioners’ resolution to the State requesting the County’s LME/MCO be switched to Trillium from Eastpointe due to the lack of services in the area. According to discussions at the Bladen County Board of Commissioners’ meetings, Trillium will begin to offer services in Bladen County starting in October 2021.

Although Bladen County should be under the Trillium LME/MCO soon, Ms. Edmondson added about the training, “It was the right thing to do with this training.” She thanked all those involved and reminded everyone that help is just a phone call away.

Anyone needing Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and/or Substance Abuse (MH/DD/SA) services may contact Eastpointe’s 24 hours, 7 days a week toll-free number at 1-800-913-6109.

The video of the graduation may be found on BladenOnline’s YouTube channel linked below.

Related resource links:


The results of CIT Survey per LME – MCO



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