KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A new program is in place to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities prevent certain crisis situations, and stay safe – as well as receive the proper care – if a mental crisis occurs.

It’s called the Tennessee START Assessment and Stabilization Teams.

Dr. Bruce Davis, the program director, said the goal of the teams is to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as mental health disorders, have the proper treatment they need, while also creating a crisis plan in case they have a mental health crisis.

He said IDD and mental health disorders are two completely separate issues, and both need to be addressed properly.

“That IDD diagnosis takes precedence, and these other concerns that a person has get ignored as a result of that, or very minimally addressed. And we want to make sure that that part of the person’s life gets addressed as well so that they’re able to fully participate,” Davis said.

These disabilities include down syndrome, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, autism and more.

Davis, who is also the deputy director of the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, said the new program started with the Center for START Services. START, or Systematic, Therapeutic, Assessment, Resources and Treatment, is a comprehensive model of service supports that optimizes independence, treatment, and community living for individuals with IDD and behavioral health needs.

TN START Assessment and Stabilizations Teams is the implementation of START services.

Essentially, what they do is meet with people with IDD and mental health disorders by referral, get to know them, provide any resources the people might be lacking, and then create a crisis plan in case they have a mental health crisis.

“We go to the person’s home, meet with the person as well as their circle of support, or the people that are associated with them, and we start working on our crisis plan,” Davis said. “We start working on gathering information so that we can facilitate sharing the information across cross-systems.”

Davis said the teams include and share that crisis plan with anyone in the system who may need to be involved should this person go into crisis.

He said it’s important they reach out to hospitals as part of the plan.

“We are collaborating with hospitals, because when people need a hospitalization we want to be able to get it. When they don’t need it, we want to be able to prevent them, and that’s what our cross-systems crisis plans are all about,” Davis said.

Davis said his department and team also works with law enforcement. If someone with IDD has a mental health crisis and police are called to the scene, someone will need to be there to help guide officers in resolving the situation.

“People with IDD have a lot of communication difficulties, sometimes they can’t always express themselves or tell others what’s going on with them,” he said. “And to have that professional there that understands, knows the person, and knows generally about how people with IDD communicate and what, you know, how to intervene with people with IDD, it’s a really good addition, augment to that overall system.”

Initially the TN START AST program is only creating case files on those who are referred to them and already use “in-service” programs. But, Davis said, eventually they will be able to help anyone with IDD and a mental health disorder in a crisis.

“We will be accepting calls out of the blue from people from wherever and we’ll be responding to try to help figure out how we can get a person connected with resources,” Davis said.

He said the primary goal of the program is to keep people with IDD and mental health disorders in their home.

“We’re going to be able to step in and provide them the background and work together with them to ensure, you know, the best possible outcome in those circumstances. And that’s not always going to jail and that’s not always going to jail and that’s not always going to a hospital,” Davis said.