The New Orleans Police Department Crisis Unit is losing an important asset. Cecile Tebo, who has spent the last seven years working for the unit battling the city’s mental health crisis with little funding and only a small group of volunteers at her disposal, is stepping down.
Who will now handle the nearly 300 calls a month she and her team received from suicidal, homicidal or disabled people in need of help? Who will help to maintain calm at the scene where mentally ill people are scared? And who will advocate for mental health awareness and care in New Orleans?
Now that Tebo is leaving, Sgt. Ben Glaudi will be the only remaining paid member of the New Orleans Police Department Crisis Unit. And unfortunately, it seems Tebo is leaving her post for reasons related to NOPD administration. According to an interview with WDSU:
“The administration made, overnight, some internal changes with my program — without my knowledge….I did not know the changes that were taking place. And the changes that took place were changes I was not comfortable with.”
Tebo has made Sisyphus look like a whiner as she’s worked with little help from a state that has been cutting funding for mental health and a city that doesn’t provide inpatient care for the mentally ill. For an example of Ms. Tebo’s passion and knowledge, see this guest column she wrote for the Times Picayune in 2010, where she illustrates how a broken mental health system in New Orleans is costing lives.
She tells the story of how New Orleans Police Officer Nicola Cotton was killed by a schizophrenic patient whose family had long tried to get him hospitalized in Louisiana — to no avail. “Unfortunately, despite the efforts of his family to get him long-term help, it took the death of Officer Cotton to bring light to the seriousness of his illness,” she wrote.
“The state continues to see a loss of mental health inpatient beds. Medicaid reimbursement rates for mental health are at the lowest tier despite the fact that mental illness is in the top five categories of medical and public safety concerns. Thousands suffer with mental illness. Yet, the majority of hospitals in the greater New Orleans area do not provide inpatient psychiatric beds.”
Unfortunately, that is the predicament we are still in today — and we need more advocates like Cecile Tebo. (See her profiled in New Orleans Magazine‘s 2009 Top 10 Female Achievers.) She will be missed at the New Orleans Police Department’s Mobile Crisis Unit. Here’s hoping her force of will and presence will remain with the city in some other capacity for the needy in New Orleans.