DENVER — Denver's STAR Program proved that sending paramedics and mental health professionals to some 911 calls works.
Now they just need more vehicles to use for those calls. Supply chain issues have left them waiting for months to get the vans and expand the program in the way it was intended to run.
"We heard that with the supply chain issues, that we can’t get delivery on these vans until April," said Carleigh Sailon, STAR Operations Manager. "Then we heard earlier this month that that’s delayed now until August with sort of the disclaimer that even that could change. I think we’re just hoping that we get them before 2023 at this point."
The STAR Program is one of the first in the country to send mental health professionals and paramedics to respond to non-violent, low-risk 911 calls.
City leaders were so impressed with the program, they funded STAR with millions more dollars last year so it could expand and serve more parts of Denver. Sailon placed the order for the special Ford Transit vans last September.
"We have money, we’re about to hire staff, and I’m thinking, great, let’s order five additional vans so we can work our way up to our plan of six vans and 10 teams," said Sailon.
She’s still waiting for them to be delivered.
"They’re just not available," said Sailon. "They’re not being built quick enough is what we’re told. There’s also a huge backlog."
The one STAR van they do have has yellow lights, blue decals, and looks nothing like an ambulance or police car. It carries things like snacks and medical equipment and other tools the STAR team needs to do their work. The new vans were supposed to have wheelchair lifts so that they could be accessible to everyone.
"That was something that we identified through the pilot that was a huge need. We want to be able to serve folks with mobility issues, with disabilities," said Sailon. "They’re roomy and we can transport people’s belongings. They’re retrofitted the way that we want. And we can’t get them."
For now, the team is driving around in minivans loaned to them by Denver Health and Mental Health Center of Denver. Three vans are on the street with another two launching soon. Still, that's less than the six they hoped to have running right now.
The STAR Program can still operate with the loaner vans, but there are challenges that come with that. The original STAR van that’s been running for a couple of years now has also become recognizable in the community, which helps them gain trust. That’s harder to accomplish with the loaner vans that look like any other car on the street.
"We looked at leasing vans for the rest of the year," said Sailon. "We drove around and looked for vans that we could purchase. There are just none available."
A program that’s overcome so many challenges, now just needs a couple vans.
"There are so many bureaucratic things that you anticipate might throw off the program and at the end of the day it’s delivery on the vans," said Sailon.
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