Chicago Begins Sending Mental Health Professionals to Certain 911 Calls | Chicago News


Chicagoans who call 911 in two parts of the city as they experience a mental health crisis can now get help not only from a Chicago police officer trained to help them, but also from a paramedic paramedic and a mental health professional.

Teams are now responding to calls for help from Chicagoans in Uptown, Lakeview and North Center on the north side, with another team focusing on Auburn Gresham and Chatham on the south side, officials told Aldermen in a statement. city ​​council health committee meeting. and Human Relations on Wednesday.

Equipped with a white van, these two teams began work Monday in the two parts of the city with the highest number of calls regarding Chicagoans suffering from mental health crises, said Matt Richards, deputy commissioner. at the Behavioral Health of the Chicago Department of Public Health. .

The two-year, $ 3.5 million pilot program marks the first time in Chicago’s history that the city’s emergency dispatch system will send someone other than a sworn and armed police officer to a appeal for help, said Alex Heaton, political advisor to Mayor Lori Lightfoot for public safety.

The teams will be tasked with defusing sometimes tense situations and preventing Chicagoans with mental illness from being arrested and jailed, Heaton said. In some cases, mental health professionals will be able to handle 911 calls without sending anyone by directing the caller to nearby resources, he added.

Teams of mental health professionals, paramedics and officers trained in crisis response will use white vans to help people with mental illness in two parts of Chicago, officials said. (Credit: Chicago Department of Public Health)

The start of the effort to reconsider how Chicago responds to calls for help from those suffering from mental health crises comes nine months after progressive members of the Chicago City Council, led by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd arrondissement), insisted that it be included in the city’s 2021 budget.

Rodriguez Sanchez pressured his colleagues to approve a plan to send only mental health professionals and paramedics on calls for help to people in crisis, not police officers. Lightfoot ultimately agreed to test both models to gain enough votes to ensure their spending plan was approved.

Rodriguez Sanchez credited the work of community organizations for advancing efforts following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer amid calls to cut the police department’s $ 1.7 billion budget Chicago and transfer those funds to programs that address the root causes of crime, including mental illness.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th District) said he was happy the Chicago Department of Public Health “has changed its tone” and will test a program to respond to calls for help from those suffering from health crises mental health without a police officer, but credited the change to a new state law requiring a new approach as well as pressure from community groups.

Two teams including mental health professionals and paramedics – but no police officers – are scheduled to start later this fall in two other parts of the city: Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, West Elsdon, West Englewood and West Lawn as well as Garfield Park. and Humboldt Park, Heaton said.

Alternative response teams will also offer follow-up care after the initial call for help, reaching out the next day, a week later and a month later, Richards said.

Additionally, teams will offer to take people in crisis to mental health clinics, rather than emergencies or jail, officials said.

“When we first came up with this we were told ‘no’ but now I see that is the direction you are heading in so I’m happy but I also want to thank the people who pushed for make that happen, ”says Rodriguez Sanchez. “The administration was absolutely against the unofficial model.”

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward) – who voted for the mayor’s spending plan for 2021 because it was funding an effort to send mental health professionals rather than police officers to people in crisis – said she was thrilled that the program finally takes off after months of silence from the town hall.

“It was like we were talking to a brick wall,” Hadden said.

However, city officials will need at least six months of data to assess the effectiveness of the program and would not agree to expand it to other parts of the city until this assessment is complete. Richards said.

Hadden and Ald. Matt Martin (47th arrondissement) said they were eager to see the program spread to the whole city as quickly as possible.

But it is not clear whether the mayor would support increased funding for the pilot program before the first results can be analyzed, potentially delaying a city-wide expansion for at least a year.

Lightfoot is set to present her spending plan for 2022 this month, and she said she will ask city council to approve the budget in October.

“We are getting closer and closer to the goal,” said Hadden.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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