In its first year, the 911 Diversion Behavioral Health Pilot program has not only served its purpose by rerouting residents’ calls for help to workers best equipped to handle them, but it’s also allowed the Baltimore Police Department and Baltimore City Fire Department to save on staffing hours, city officials said Thursday.
The program was set in motion last June with a mission to divert certain behavioral health-related 911 calls from overburdened law enforcement to experienced mental health professionals, as well as address “gaps in our public behavioral health system,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at a news conference.
A collaborative effort between Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. and the police and fire departments, the program is equipped with a crisis hotline that handles calls regarding behavioral-health-related incidents, including anxiety attacks, suicidal ideation and suicidal intent.
“Frankly, we do not need to and should not be providing a police response to calls that are better handled by trained professionals,” Scott said. “As a country, we need to stop looking at our police officers as a solution for all of our problems. They are not trained for this work, and their time is better spent doing what our residents actually need them to do: proactively policing and catching violent criminals.”
An average of over 13,000 calls to 911 are made in Baltimore each year, with most involving mental health or overdose emergencies, the mayor said.
Rather than sending emergency units to a nonemergency scene, the program aims to redirect calls involving behavioral-related crises to Here2Help, a mental health services line operated by BCRI and staffed by mental health clinicians who are trained to handle such incidents.
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Of the reported 294 attempted diversions to BCRI, 182 cases were resolved by BCRI while the other 112 callers were returned back to 911.
According to BCRI stats, the program saved the fire department 197 staffing hours and the police department 109.
And now the program is in the process of expanding. U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen secured $2 million in funding earlier this year to help the program create mobile crisis teams for people under 18. Originally, the pilot was limited to adults.
“More than ever, children and youth in our community are feeling distressed and disconnected. Very recently, the CDC recorded an increase in anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts among youth,” said Crista Taylor, president and CEO of Behavioral Health System Baltimore. “This federal funding will be used to create a new, specific mobile response team that goes into the community to provide care and follow-up support.”
The new funding will also be used to hire a mental health clinician in the 911 call center to help 911 call-takers deescalate crises and conduct screenings.
“These components will continue shifting Baltimore away from a historical law enforcement response to one where people and their families get the immediate help they need in the community for a mental health crisis,” Taylor said.
A public-facing dashboard has been developed and is now available for residents to follow the behavioral health diversion pilot’s progress and impact.