Austin boosts funds for mental health emergencies

The City of Austin will hire seven new paramedics and three clinicians to be better prepared to answer mental health calls

By EMS1 Staff 

AUSTIN — City officials approved an increase to the new fiscal year budget is boosting funds to improve how first responders deal with mental health emergencies. 

Government officials approved the fiscal year 2019-20 budget, which includes a boost in funding for Austin-Travis EMS and Integral Care's Expanded Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (EMCOT). The budget also covers additional training for 911 dispatchers, KXAN reported. 

ATCEMS will receive $790,000, which will go towards hiring seven new employees for the agency's Community Health Paramedics program. 

"Some of our clients don't really need an ambulance. They need a paramedic," Chief Ernesto Rodriguez said. "They need somebody who needs to assess them, who knows how to talk to them, who knows how to find out about their medical history and knows how to activate the care they need."

According to Rodriguez, ATCEMS is responding to multiple mental health calls each day, and the new hires will help address that need. 

"Our plan is to put community health medics in vehicles and add them to the system, and any time a mental health case comes up, whether it's an Austin Police Department case or one of our own, we'll notify them, and they'll start moving in that direction quickly," Rodriguez said.

The budget also provides funding for EMCOT officials to hire two full-time clinicians and one part-time clinician who will be available to answer video calls from paramedics or crisis intervention officers on mental health calls using a new Telehealth tool through the Integral Care partnership.

"We don't have lights and sirens, so it takes a little longer to get there," Dawn Handley, Integral Care’s Chief Operations Officer said. "So [with] this, there's a first responder in the field who knows that they're interacting with an individual that might have a mental health need. They can use this iPad and pull up a clinician right away and give access to that client, they can talk to the clinician."

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