Calif. county plans to partner EMTs, mental health workers on 911 calls
The pilot program will dispatch new mobile teams to help those having a mental health crisis or substance abuse problems
East Bay Times
ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. — Within a few months, teams of mental health workers and EMTs will be dispatched in some Alameda County cities to help people having a mental crisis or substance abuse problems.
The pilot program, called the “Community Assessment Treatment and Transport Team,” or CATT, will roll out in Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward and Alameda sometime this summer.
Each team will have a licensed behavioral health clinician and an emergency medical technician. The mental health workers will be from the county, and emergency medical technicians will be from the ambulance company Falck Northern California. They will travel in a modified Chevrolet Tahoe.
They will be dispatched through 911 calls and if necessary will work with local police officers and firefighters at the scene to assess people and get them treatment.
People in mental crisis are often taken into custody under California law code “5150,” which allows authorities to involuntarily temporarily detain someone for psychiatric hospitalization. Currently, they are taken to the John George Psychiatric Hospital or emergency rooms.
“This is the first time that we are pairing an EMT with a clinician,” Stephanie Lewis, of Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, told the San Leandro City Council during a briefing June 1.
The teams will operate daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The ultimate goal is to have 12 teams, according to Jeanette Dong, the director of San Leandro’s Recreation and Human Services Department, which has been working with county agencies over the past three years to launch the program. The program could expand to other county cities depending on its success.
“We have been one of the primary advocates for this type of ability and service,” she said.
No start date has been announced, but it’s expected to happen before September.
“There have been a few bumps in the road,” Dong said. “COVID-19 has certainly delayed the hiring of staff, vehicle conversions and the necessary training.”
Lewis said the teams will operate under a three-year pilot program, and will then be evaluated to see if it should continue.
The estimated cost was not immediately available. Funding is coming from Measure A, approved in March 2004. The sales tax brings in about $100 million annually to provide health care for low-income and uninsured residents.
The program also will be paid for in part through the state Mental Health Services Act, which voters passed in November 2004 to support county mental health programs.
Along with Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, others behind the mobile team program are the Alameda County EMS Agency; Bonita House, an Oakland nonprofit mental health agency; and Alameda County’s 911 ambulance provider, Falck.
San Leandro Councilman Pete Ballew said during the meeting earlier this month that officials should work to get the teams on the street as soon as possible because of the coronavirus pandemic. People are stressed as a result of the pandemic, he said, and the stress can be worsened if someone has mental illness.
“There has never been a greater need for us to get this off the ground,” Ballew said.
©2020 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)