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Baltimore County expands intervention services for residents in crisis

Baltimore County will offer a broader range of assistance to those suffering from a behavioral crisis under a one-year pilot program announced Tuesday by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr..

The program, a collaboration between the Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services and the police department, will connect residents in crisis more quickly with the most appropriate resources, diverting them from law enforcement and emergency services, officials said.

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“This pandemic has challenged us all in unimaginable ways and government must do all we can to provide thoughtful, informed, and compassionate service to our residents in need,” Olszewski said in a news release.

The county’s behavioral health expansion will be paid for by $1.6 million in federal funding.

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The Baltimore County Police Department has a mobile crisis team to respond to mental health crises and other incidents requiring access to social service resources, and the pilot program will increase the team’s case capacity by up to 50%. The pilot also creates a 9-1-1 Call Center Clinician Program, in collaboration with the county health department, to assess residents and divert them away from the criminal justice system.

“Behavioral health issues present challenges to law enforcement that we cannot successfully mitigate alone,” Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said in the news release. “Under this new initiative, we will have the opportunity to get more resources to the individuals who need them most.”

With the pilot program, the response times for residents calling for service will be reduced, according to the news release.

“Our goal is to provide innovative services that are both patient-focused and patient-friendly,” said Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, the county’s health officer. “Teaming licensed mental health clinicians with specially trained police officers supports that public health-focused approach to behavioral health issues.”

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Olszewski called the expansion of assistance for those in behavioral crisis “an important step” to help residents “while continuing to help our first responders to strengthen communities and save lives.”

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