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Imamu Baraka talks about why he filmed the woman released from University of Maryland Medical Center Tuesday night in nothing but a medical gown and socks.

The recent attention on the video of a woman who appeared to be in crisis out on the streets after leaving University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown raises important questions about improving Baltimore’s emergency response system, especially our behavioral health crisis response services (“Woman found outside Baltimore hospital in gown and socks was experiencing psychotic episode, her lawyers says,” Jan. 17).

Baltimore City has a Crisis, Information and Referral line (at 410-433-5175) which is available 24/7. Counselors respond to over 46,000 calls annually to help people find treatment or other resources they need for themselves or someone else experiencing a crisis. The city also has a mobile crisis response team that provides services in the community for people in crisis. Last year, the mobile crisis teams responded to over 2,500 calls with more than half of those being to emergency departments. Unfortunately, our crisis teams are not available 24/7.

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Baltimore’s crisis response system has helped countless Baltimoreans overcome life-threatening crises, but there must be broader investment in it. This is a shared obligation of the city and state with a range of partners including hospitals and community-based providers. We need to have more clinicians working hand in hand with police and emergency responders to address behavioral health crises. At Behavioral Health System Baltimore, we have partnered with the police to launch two pilot programs that give police officers the tools to handle behavioral health crises in the community, and these models are showing success in getting people connected to services rather than arrested or admitted to emergency departments. We also need to give hospitals options to better support people at discharge by having more readily accessible community-based behavioral health programs. This means community services for people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders, services that may include emergency housing, drug treatment and case management.

This is especially important for people who live alone, are homeless or have limited personal supports. A comprehensive behavioral health crisis response system saves lives, but it requires a systemic approach. This system has been under-valued and under-resourced for a long time. Without working together and without the full support of the city and the state, our system will continue to fail the people it is trying to serve.

Crista M. Taylor, Baltimore

The writer is president and CEO of Behavioral Health System Baltimore.

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