City of Los Angeles and County roll out pilot program that sends mental health workers to 911 calls | national news

LOS ANGELES — In an industrial corner of downtown near the Los Angeles River, a mental health response team went in search of a man described only as wearing a blue shirt.

Strapped to a seat in the back, Rafael Arias Delgado, 34, a psychiatric technician, relayed the location to his teammates up front.

‘It’s at the end of Banning Street,’ he shouted.

The trio were among two dozen healthcare workers who took part in a mock training session on Thursday to practice engaging people with mental illness in crisis who need treatment. In this case, the man in the blue shirt was a role-playing firefighter. The drill came as city and county officials converged near Los Angeles Fire Department Station No. 4 to announce the launch of a pilot program for trained workers like Delgado, instead law enforcement, to respond to non-violent emergency calls.

Officials say the therapeutic transport program will be available around the clock and will connect people to mental health services. The idea of ​​the program is to reduce overcrowding in hospitals and allow police and firefighters to respond to the calls they are best placed to handle.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the response teams are akin to gang response or suicide prevention and sexual abuse response teams that work alongside authorities.

“We know that mental health is best handled by mental health experts,” he said. “Often seeing a badge can trigger people’s trauma even more.”

In Los Angeles and the region, it is difficult to obtain long-term care for people with mental illness; often they pass through hospitals, psychiatric units and prisons before finding themselves on the streets again. In worst-case scenarios, they have fatal encounters with the police.

“It’s just not acceptable,” Garcetti said. “That’s why the county and the city came together to sharpen our pencils and say, what’s a better system?”

The City of Los Angeles partnered with the county mental health department to launch the pilot project.

Thursday’s announcement of the program coincided with Governor Gavin Newsom’s unveiling of a plan to push more people with serious mental illnesses and addictions into court-ordered care that includes medication and housing.

The plan would require all 58 counties in the state to participate in the program through their civil courts. Local governments would face penalties if they fail to comply with the requirements.

Along the same lines, according to city and county officials, the therapeutic transportation program has already shown promising results.

In the first month, Garcetti said, mental health workers responded to 113 calls, about 20% of those calls ended with a person being treated and released to the scene. About 13% of those calls resulted in patients being transported to the hospital, an 80% drop from similar calls in the past, reducing pressure on overcrowded emergency rooms. The rest of the calls, the vast majority, resulted in patients being placed in alternative medical care facilities such as mental health clinics or addiction treatment centers.

The mobile mental health outreach program will eventually include vans for each of the county’s five supervisory districts. The next team is expected to begin operating from LAFD Fire Station No. 59 in West Los Angeles this weekend.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terraza said emergency dispatchers were receiving about 50,000 “psychological calls” to the LAPD and LAFD.

“Now, with this innovative resource, we can provide better care for mental health patients,” he said. “We can reduce the time our paramedics wait in emergency rooms for an available bed, we can help reduce overcrowding in hospitals.”

Although the results are early, he said, it has been shown that almost 70% of the time the therapy van will transport patients and relieve paramedics from the scene.

“It’s going to be a very good thing,” he said.

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