Schnucks trains employees to respond to mental health crises

ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — Schnucks Store Manager Armen Midzic has a wide range of responsibilities, from researching products, checking in staff, rearranging inventory and now helping a person suffering from a mental health crisis.

“I would be ready,” Midic shared. “I mean, the training was helpful in putting us in a situation where we could approach that person.”

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

“We are a team,” explains Maddie Baker-Wilmes, the crisis response behaviorist. “The officers we are with are CIT trained. They provide that extra support in case we go on scene with a weapon, but usually our clinicians do most of the talking, de-escalating and delivering those resources.”

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

BHR is now responding 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 issues with displaced people harassing and loitering among customers.

Behavioral Health Response COO Tiffany Lacy-Clark told News 4 that the impact of Schnucks being the first in the region to establish this kind of partnership is immediate change.

“Having this conversation is a help,” Lacy-Clark explained. “Because we are now talking about behavioral health. There are people who go to the supermarkets with a crisis, and now on bad days there are people who can respond to that.

BHR said 70 percent of people who call the 988 crisis line in St. Louis are not connected to any healthcare provider. Baker-Wilmes said since 988 went online in the summer, BHR St. Louis crews have answered more than 9,000 calls. This speaks to the needs that remain unmet in our community.

Redmond said this new service is possible thanks to St. Louis’ 911 Diversion Program. He said he hopes it expands to all Schnucks locations.

“This is something we would like to expand in the future, in partnership with BHR, St. Louis City and County, and across the region. It’s a benefit to everyone,” Redmond said.

Shoppers News 4 spoke to said the program helps the community move forward.

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

“Most people turn a blind eye, they don’t want to look at it,” explains shopper Ed Fortman. “They don’t want to deal with it. It’s good that people in the store pay attention to this kind of thing.”

As for Midzic, he sees looking out for those in need as another way to help his client.

“It was actually eye-opening for us,” said Midzic. “It gave us a different approach, like curious rather than accusatory.”

The partnership between the City of St. Louis, SLMPD, Behavioral Health Response and Schnucks incurs no cost to the client. The grocer is responsible for training his employees. About 45 employees have now followed this training.

Schnucks trains employees to respond to mental health crises

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