David Heinen: Emergency mental health outreach desperately needed | TheUnion.com

David Heinen: Emergency mental health outreach desperately needed

The night of Aug. 3, Heather Vance of North San Juan met a woman in town who declared her intention to start a 72-hour “cleansing fire“ somewhere nearby.

Vance and friends were able to stop the woman from initiating this madness and, calling 911, were told by fire dispatch that an “actual fire” was needed before any response was possible.

Vance and other community members then monitored the situation as best they could, talking the woman down. But the next day, apparently as a reaction to the loss of her dog, the woman announced that she had started her truck on fire.

Vance then contacted Health and Human Services. It is not clear if they actually responded to the site. Eventually the woman started her cleansing fire, which was contained by the community, and she was arrested, again with help from the local citizens.

Here yet again is a blatant example of the need for emergency outreach mental health response reminiscent of the incident in which a mentally disturbed woman chased an officer with a knife and was shot and killed in front of her children.

Both incidents reveal an appalling lack of capacity on the part of Nevada County to respond to mental health emergencies. What did Health and Human Services offer as a mitigation? Did they alert authorities that a 72 hour ‘’cleansing fire“ was being determinedly proposed by a woman clearly departed from her hold on reality? A woman who burned her truck because she had lost her dog? All this during a red flag condition? What was Health and Human Services actually able to do with their existing resources and legal mandate?

It seems to me that this situation could easily have become another River Fire conflagration, taking much of the Ridge with it. I’m guessing Health and Human Services has no funding to support such emergency outreach, and that there is legal ambiguity about when forcible restraint can be enforced on those who feel compelled to create 72-hour cleansing fires in a red flag environment.

Regardless, unless such funding and legal clarity become a reality, this will happen again in our county. It is only a matter of time. And the responsibility lies with us, the taxpayers, to demand from county leadership both fiscal solutions and policy clarity.

Disaster was avoided this time, not because of Nevada County Emergency Services, but because of incredibly responsible commitment to the community by Heather Vance and her friends. I live nearby, and I and my neighbors owe her a huge debt.

We shouldn’t have to depend on everyday citizens to mitigate situations when people with out-of-control mental illness threaten neighbors, not to mention whole communities. Fortunately, Heather Vance and her friends are not everyday citizens.

David Heinen lives in North San Juan.


Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


Gerald G. Doane: What real leadership is about


The Afghanistan conundrum, from the beginning when we went there to kill terrorists who killed many of us to 20 years of nation-building and finally to a disastrous pullout, encourages the question about political leadership…

See more