New crisis intervention co-responder provides mental health resources to county police departments

“She’s been helpful with just about everything; missing persons; victims; anyone who’s in crisis,” said Gettysburg Police Chief Robert Glenny about the county’s first mental health co-responder, Mckenzie Johnson.

Johnson is stationed in the Gettysburg Police Dept. but also works with Cumberland Township Police Department and is scheduled to begin in the near future with Carroll Valley Police Department. 

Glenny said Johnson, recently hired as part of the York/Adams Mental Health & Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (MH-IDD) program, has already had over 20 interactions with people in need. “It’s a significant event in anyone’s life if they have to call the police. Johnson can help people navigate the waterways,” he said.

Glenny said keeping people out of Gettysburg Hospital was particularly important because so many people from around the region go there. “We can credit her with diverting people away from a mental health commitment in about half of her cases. That’s a big deal for us as a borough,” said Glenny.

Johnson said the typical process was that, after a first response from police officers who clear the scene, she is called in to de-escalate the individual or individuals in crisis. But Johnson’s support does not end there as she follows up with clients to be sure they are receiving the resources available to them.

Johnson said she became interested in the combination of mental health and police departments through her prior work experiences. She began as a crisis intervention specialist in the Hanover area after completing her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice.

“I did an internship at the completion of my master’s degree last year with the Chambersburg Borough Police Department, and that really got me interested in the combination of mental health and police departments,” she said. “I just have always liked helping people. And I like seeing people get that help that they need.”

Johnson is also part of Wellspan’s Specialized Treatment and Recovery Team (START) program. “START is a Community Certified Behavioral Health Clinic, the first of its kind in southcentral Pennsylvania,” said Johnson. “The START program is designed to provide faster access to mental health and substance use screenings and care, including outpatient psychiatric and therapy services, to help reduce visits to hospital emergency departments, and provide the best care setting possible.”

While Johnson anticipates growth in Adams County’s mental health response program, she does fear some difficulty with a lack of resources. “I don’t think anywhere right now has adequate mental health resources,” she said. “I’m going to be gaining a lot of ground very quickly, I’m excited about it, and it’s going to be a little bit overwhelming, but I know I have a lot of coworkers that will be helping me out as well.”

Glenny said the new co-responder program is still in its infancy. “It’s a learn-as-we-go process,” said Johnson.

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Juliette is a spring intern at Gettysburg Connection and a sophomore at Gettysburg College. Juliette is a declared Public Policy and Women, Gender, and Sexuality double major with a concentration in social justice. When she is not in class or studying, Juliette co-chairs the campus Public Policy Student Council, founded and is president of the Amnesty International Chapter, and mentors her residents as a residential assistant.

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Charles (Chuck) Stangor is Gettysburg Connection's Owner, Publisher, and Editor in Chief. I would like to hear from you. Please contact me at cstangor@gettysburgconnection.org.

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