Mayor Scott Provides Update on the 9-1-1 Diversion Behavioral Health Pilot Program and Plans for Expansion

Crest of the City of Baltimore

Brandon M. Scott
Mayor,
Baltimore City
250 City Hall - Baltimore Maryland 21202
(410) 396-3835 - Fax: (410) 576-9425

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT
Monica Lewis
(410) 387-8378

monica.lewis@baltimorecity.gov

Announces launch of public dashboard to increase information, access, and transparency

BALTIMORE, MD. (Thursday, June 30, 2022) -Today, Mayor Brandon M. Scott was joined by behavioral health specialists and clinical and community-based partners to provide an update on the 9-1-1 Diversion Behavioral Health Pilot program launched in June 2021 and share plans for program expansion. Baltimore has served as a national leader as a jurisdiction, working to divert certain 9-1-1 calls to community partners and behavioral health specialists.

When 9-1-1 call takers identify a call as appropriate for diversion they transfer the call to the Here2Help line, a mental health services line operated by Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. (BCRI) and staffed by trained mental health clinicians. Here2Help can resolve calls over the phone or dispatch a team of clinician responders. The pilot program began by diverting two suicidal ideation call types, and through the quality assurance process, in April 2022, the program expanded to include a third similar call type.

"Defining what policing looks like for a community is one of the most consequential decisions any local government can make. Clearly, the status quo solutions for policing, public safety, and addressing the needs of those experiencing behavioral health crises are not providing the best outcomes for our residents," said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. "This critical program is part of a vision for a system of care that prevents people from having unnecessary contact with the police and diverts them into services and resources that will appropriately meet their needs. I am sincerely grateful for the support provided by Senator Van Hollen and the partnership of Behavioral Health System Baltimore and Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. to ensure this essential initiative is sustained."

The central mission of this pilot program is to match individuals to the most appropriate and available resources when they call for assistance and reduce unnecessary police encounters with people in behavioral crises. This approach aligns with federal guidance, evolving best practices, and the requirements of our consent decree and demonstrates a commitment to addressing gaps in our public behavioral health system. U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen has been an advocate nationally for 9-1-1 diversion and brought a $2 million federal investment home earlier this year to expand this pilot program.

"Emergencies involving a behavioral health crisis are best handled by trained professionals. That’s why I introduced legislation to implement alternative solutions to crisis situations that don’t require a police response, and why I was proud to join Mayor Scott for the launch of the 9-1-1 Diversion Pilot Program and to secure federal funding for this program. After its first year in operation, the diversion program has helped connect people in crisis with mental health clinicians while allowing the Baltimore police to prioritize other critical public safety needs like violent crime," said Senator Chris Van Hollen. "I will continue working alongside Mayor Scott and our state and federal partners to provide more resources to the public safety initiatives that are vital to our communities and crime prevention on our streets."

Through this federal investment, the partnership will expand the behavioral health diversion pilot program to have a non-police response to more behavioral health calls that come in through 9-1-1 by:

  1. Adding youth under the age of 18 as eligible for diversion by creating youth-focused mobile crisis teams, and;
  2. Co-locating a behavioral health clinician in the 9-1-1 call center to support 9-1-1 call takers in de-escalating crises and conducting screening to determine the most appropriate response.

The behavioral health diversion is currently limited to those aged 18 and older. This provision is due to the gaps in crisis services for children and youth in Baltimore City. Creating child and youth-focused mobile crisis teams will allow the pilot to expand capacity so that calls received by 9-1-1 from youth and families can be safely diverted to mobile response teams that can serve any child in the City. Expanding to include youth in the program has been a priority identified by community members and stakeholders such as the Collaborative Planning and Implementation Committee (CPIC). Given the complexity of these calls, the high-pressure nature of handling 9-1-1 calls, and the limited training call-takers receive in behavioral health; there is a need for real-time support to call-takers with making the appropriate classification and linking callers to the necessary resources. Co-locating a behavioral health clinician in the 9-1-1 call center is a practice that has been adopted in several communities across the country. The primary role of the clinicians will be to support 9-1-1 call takers in de-escalating crises and conducting screening to determine the most appropriate response. As the local behavioral health authority for the city, Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB) will partner with the city and oversee the planning and implementation of this expansion.

"We know that many of the behavioral health calls that come to 911 can be resolved safely without police," said Crista M. Taylor, president and CEO of Behavioral Health System Baltimore. "The 9-1-1 diversion program is changing the way we help people experiencing a behavioral health emergency by shifting certain behavioral health calls to specialized mental health counselors at the city’s Here2Help line."

An internal working group, which includes a data analyst and the Baltimore City Fire Department’s medical director, continues to provide quality assurance. Through the data fellows program, housed within the Mayor’s Office of Performance and Innovation, a public facing dashboard has been developed and is now available for residents to follow progress and impact of the behavioral health diversion pilot.

This diversion pilot program is one aspect of the city’s Behavioral Health Gap Analysis Implementation Plan. The City developed the implementation plan to address the recommendations identified within the Public Behavioral Health System Gap Analysis Report published in 2019.

One section of the consent decree deals specifically with response to behavioral health crises, whereby the City agreed "to conduct an assessment to identify gaps in the behavioral health service system, recommend solutions, and assist with implementing the recommendations as appropriate." In response to this recommendation, the City has developed a multi-year approach to reducing unnecessary police encounters with people in crisis and is committed to implementing the non-enforcement measures to bridge the gaps that lead to these unnecessary interactions.

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