This program sends a social worker on 911 calls about mental health
If you call 911 in certain neighborhoods in Dallas, a licensed specialist at the dispatch center will determine if the call relates to a mental health crisis. If it does, it won’t just be the police that respond to the call. Instead, a team led by a mental health professional will show up and try to defuse the situation, hopefully leading to an outcome that doesn’t result in violence, incarceration, or unnecessary hospitalization.
Started in a single district of the city, the program, called the RIGHT (Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team) Care program, diverts emergency 911 calls that are evidently mental health-related from the police to social workers and paramedics, is soon to expand citywide, given its success in reducing unnecessary arrests and freeing up resources for overrun hospitals.
At its core, the program allows individuals with mental health problems to be treated as patients, rather than suspects. “Mental healthcare is a medical need, not a law enforcement issue,” says B.J. Wagner, senior director of smart justice at Dallas’s Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which created the program, based on a similar one in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Since its launch in 2018, the program has specifically served South Central Dallas, an area whose population is predominantly black and has high levels of unemployed and uninsured people. It’s a particular hotspot for repeat mental health calls, the highest in Dallas.
When you meet a vulnerable population, and find out what keeps them calling 911 [over and over], and you address that, entire worlds can change. The team also does follow-ups, to ensure people are on the mend, and that they’ve been taking their prescribed medicines—and to try and find financial or access solutions if not. – BJ Wagner
The data shows the progress: Between pre-launch and 2019, admittance to the ER decreased by 9% in the targeted zip codes, while it increased in the rest of the city. Arrests dropped by 8%, while they went up in neighboring ones of a similar socioeconomic status. Just 2% of the RIGHT Care calls led to arrests, and the repeat call rate is less than 7%.
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