The Rock County Crisis Intervention Unit is one of the few local agencies well equipped to help someone who’s suicidal.
So it was a disappointment last week to learn a state investigation determined the unit didn’t act fast enough to help a teen who killed himself April 4. The parents had complained the county should have done more for their child, Cole Fuller, and the state Department of Health Services findings validate their concerns. The county’s behavior appeared much like the “total failure,” Cole’s father, Jeff Fuller, alleged in a June interview with The Gazette.
“To say he fell through the cracks, I don’t think is fair because there was no support there at all,” Jeff said at the time.
The case is a wake-up call not just for social workers and other mental health professionals at the county but for all of us. When it comes to monitoring for suicide, we should never downplay the warning signs.
The Fuller case is especially baffling because Fuller’s mental health issues had been well documented. It wasn’t like Rock County was working with someone exhibiting few symptoms. He had been receiving treatment through Walworth County Human Services, but that treatment ended after he moved to Rock County. The family turned to the crisis unit for help, but the state found the county’s response inadequate in multiple ways:
The county did not create a useful crisis plan for the family.
It “under-assigned” Fuller’s risk potential and delayed case management appointments.
It failed to link Fuller with services that could have helped him.
When the parents expressed concerns with their son’s treatment, the county didn’t give the family an option to file a formal complaint.
In other words, the unit didn’t take Fuller’s problems seriously.
Fortunately, the county appears to be taking seriously the state’s findings, and County Administrator Josh Smith said the county is committed to trying to “make the system better.”
“There are things we’re looking to improve in our policies and practices,” Smith told The Gazette, including how the county handles cases when they’re transferred from other jurisdictions.
The county must submit to the state by Wednesday a correction plan detailing how the county will address the problems raised in the investigation, Smith noted.
To be fair to the county, the crisis intervention unit doesn’t have an easy task. Even if the county had done everything right in Fuller’s case, there’s no guarantee he wouldn’t have ended his life. The county deals with many people suffering from mental health problems, and not everyone escapes the darkness that leads to suicide. A sad reality is suicide cannot always be prevented, despite the intervention of loved ones and health services. People who commit suicide don’t ask first for permission.
But we should expect urgency from our government—and each other. We cannot save everyone with mental health problems, but we can show we care, and that’s the real shame in the Fuller case. The county’s response made it seem like Cole Fuller’s life wasn’t worth the effort.