Schnucks trains employees to respond to mental health crises

Published: Nov. 24, 2022 at 10:26 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Schnucks Store Manager Armen Midzic has a wide range of responsibilities, from examining produce, checking in on staff, re-arranging stock, and now assisting a person suffering from a mental health crisis.

“I would be ready,” Midic shared. “I mean, the training was beneficial to put us in a situation to be able to approach that person.”

If someone inside 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,” Behavioral Health Response Crisis Clinician Maddie Baker-Wilmes explained. “The officers we are with are CIT trained, they offer that extra support in case we go on scene with a weapon, but typically our clinicians are doing most of the talking, de-escalating, and providing those resources.”

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

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 on in August for having challenges with unhoused individuals harassing customers and loitering.

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

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

BHR said 70 percent of the people who call the 988-crisis line in St. Louis are not connected to any health providers of any type. Baker-Wilmes said since 988 went online over the summer, BHR St. Louis crews have responded to more than 9,000 calls. This speaks to the needs going unmet in our community.

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

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

Shoppers that News 4 talked to said the program moves the community forward.

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

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

As for Midzic, he sees watching out for people in need, is one more way to help is customer.

“It was actually eye opening for us,” Midzic shared. “It gave us a different approach, like from curious instead of accusatory.”

The partnership among the City of St. Louis, SLMPD, Behavioral Health Response, and Schnucks is not a cost to the customer. The grocer is fronting the bill to train its employees. So far, roughly 45 employees have received this training.