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Baltimore 911 Diversion Behavioral Health Pilot Program announces plan to expand

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Posted at 5:00 PM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 17:00:36-04

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott says the City’s 911 Diversion Behavioral Health Pilot Program is going strong a year after it was launched.

The program was launched in June 2021, and now, city leaders, and mental health officials, are talking about plans to expand.

Mayor Scott was joined on Thursday by behavioral health specialists and clinical and community-based partners to provide an update on the 911 Diversion Behavioral Health Pilot program.

“Baltimore has served as a national leader as a jurisdiction, working to divert certain 911 calls to community partners and behavioral health specialists,” a press release said.

MORE: Senator Van Hollen & Baltimore community-based leaders fight to have mental health professionals divert police calls

When 911 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 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.”

MORE: Federal investment to help Baltimore City's efforts to send behavior health professionals on mental health crisis calls

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 911 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.”

RELATED: Baltimore City 911 system to begin diverting some behavioral health calls away from police

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 911 by:

  • Adding youth under the age of 18 as eligible for diversion by creating youth-focused mobile crisis teams, and;
  • 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.