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There’s so much more to know about the multi-faceted local agency affectionately known as “Crisis.” But at its core, what Lebanon County Crisis Intervention does – what it’s really all about – is empowering people, making a difference in lives and practicing the art of communication.
“The basis for everything we do is building a relationship,” said Brenda Startoni, who’s the program manager for Lebanon County Crisis Intervention. “People need medications, people need therapy, but people also need someone to walk alongside of them. Everyone needs someone.
“We need to be kind to each other,” continued Startoni. “If we were able to be kind to each other, we could change the world. Just accept people for who they are and love them anyway.”
Much of the work that “Crisis” accomplishes is performed on a one-on-one basis.
Located at 229 S. Fourth St. in Lebanon, across from WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, Lebanon County Crisis Intervention is funded by the county but its counselors are employed by WellSpan. Startoni’s staff is made up of 11 part-time counselors, three part-time counselors and four “as-needed” counselors.
All the counselors possess bachelor’s-level educations or higher, most in the field of behavioral health.
“It’s important for you to be able to think outside the box and remain calm in very stressful situations,” said Startoni, a 55-year-old resident of the Middle Creek area of Lancaster County. “Our clients may not be angry at us, but they’ll take it out on us. We have to be able to bring escalated people back down. You have to have a lot of compassion and empathy. That’s huge in this field.
“You have to be willing to face the ugliness and be willing to walk alongside people who are broken,” she added. “Because we’re there, it comes toward us. We can’t own those things because they come from places of trauma and hurt. You have to be able to see beyond the behavior. It’s hard for any person to imagine.”
Lebanon County Crisis Intervention services local clients in need in three distinct ways – over the phone, through walk-in visits to its facility on Fourth Street, and through the deployment of its counselors to on-site situations. The calls that ‘Crisis’ responds to are typically emotional, mental, physical, or drug and alcohol related in nature.
Lebanon County Crisis Intervention also works closely with other local social service agencies to secure the best outcome for its clients.
“We’re the first responders of behavior health,” said Startoni. “When anyone in the county is experiencing a mental health crisis, they will call us, and we will respond appropriately. Our counselors have to have that first responders’ mentality. We see people at their worst. When we see a problem, we ask, ‘What happened?’
“A crisis is defined by the person experiencing it,” she continued. “We all have different levels of resiliency. There are some people who can go through extreme trauma. They have coping skills. They have faith. They can live through it. So, you can’t look it like this is worse than that. If a person is identifying it as a crisis, it is a crisis. It’s very subjective to the person.”
On the average, Crisis Intervention sees 4,000 local residents a year, some multiple times. Lebanon County averages about 20 suicides each year.
“It seems the people we don’t see are the ones who are dying,” said Startoni. “We talk to people about suicide every day. But you never know when you talk to someone if that conversation made a difference or not. We have people who call us almost every day. There are some people who don’t have anyone. People count on us to answer the phone 24/7. For some, it isn’t for any other reason than because we listen to them.
“It can be anyone,” she added. “We see doctors and nurses and lawyers. We see homeless folks. We see the middle class. It can be 3-year-olds to people in their 90s. It doesn’t discriminate. We see a huge variety of people. But it seems that people with less resources and more trauma we see the most.”
Mandated by the state, Lebanon County Crisis Intervention – just like every other county crisis intervention agency – was conceived in the early 1970s, during a time when Pennsylvania was disbanding its state hospital system. Over the past 50 years, the local Crisis Intervention has helped thousands of people and saved countless lives.
“I think now there’s more of a realization that crisis services are important in every community,” said Startoni. “We are on the front line. One of the things that’s happened is that the value of it has increased. People realize the importance of early intervention. I think there’s going to be even more emphasis placed on mobile crisis in the future.
“I’ve always had a heart for the marginalized portion of the population, the people who no one else seems to care about,” she said. “I’ve been drawn to that. It’s very personal to me. If there’s someone out there who doesn’t have any help, I want to help them find it. I don’t want people to be alone.”
And oh, the things she has seen, the situations she has witnessed, the people she has met, the stories she could tell. But Startoni’s on-the-job experiences have provided her with a different perspective on life.
“I have lots and lots of stories,” said Stratoni. “I can tell you when I worked in Dauphin County, we had to respond to people on bridges. I have been on the phone with people with guns in their hands or pills in their hands. I’ve been on the phone with people in closets hiding from another person. But I’m not afraid to walk up to someone who is escalated and engage them.
“There’s also a self-care piece to it,” she concluded. “When your shift is over, you have to debrief. You have to leave it here, go home and put your efforts into your family and pets. We’re under a tremendous amount of stress. The demand is much greater than the resources available. You have to be able to protect yourself.”
Levels of empathy can emerge from the fine line that exists between counselors and clients.
There is help, there is hope, and there are solutions.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of harming themselves, please call Lebanon County Crisis Intervention at (717) 274-3363 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Find more help in Lebanon County here.
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