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Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Baltimore Pilot Program Diverts 911 Calls to Mental Health Counselors 

In May last year, Baltimore City Mayor Brandon M. Scott announced a new pilot program with different agencies and local partners to divert appropriate 911 calls to mental health counselors and clinicians at no cost to Baltimore residents. 

“The Baltimore department is not comprised of substance abuse, mental health or trauma counselors, and neither is our fire department. Yet, our 911-call center receives 13,000 emergency calls annually related to behavioral health matters. The 911 Diversion Pilot aims to get the right outcome for callers whenever they dial 911,” Mayor Scott said. 

Mayor Scott emphasized that the pilot program is “intentionally starting small” and not related to defunding the police. 

During the Pilot Program, the 911 specialists will assess callers through the Priority Dispatch Medical protocols. If the 911-specialist deems it appropriate, the caller will be connected to a trained clinician at the Here2Help hotline, which is operated by Baltimore Crisis Response. Inc. (BCRI).   

“The Here2Help hotline operates 24/7, 365 days a year. Call operators can offer on the spot counseling, connections to behavioral health resources, and can send trained experts to help people wherever they are,” said Crista Taylor, president of Behavioral System Baltimore. 

Once the call is transferred, the clinician will work with the caller. Then, depending on the clinician’s assessment, a mobile crisis team may be dispatched. The mobile crisis teams are staffed by a registered nurse and a licensed mental health clinician, according to Edgar Wiggins, founding executive director of BCRI.  

The protocol will be under constant evaluation, and changes and adaptations will be made as deemed necessary. 

During this pilot, there will be daily quality assurance meetings to evaluate the responses to all calls that are diverted to ensure the pilot’s success led by the medical director. A data fellow from the Office of Performance and Innovation will continually track the pilot’s outcomes. Organizations and individuals who make up the Collaborative Planning and Implementation Committee (CPIG) will also be assisting the pilot program and will make recommendations. 

The city plans to expand the pilot program beyond behavioral responses such as peer support, housing opportunities, and community-based youth diversion. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please feel free to contact the Here2Help hotline at 410-433-5175. For more information on Here2Help visit, https://www.bhsbaltimore.org/find-help/here2help-hotline/.

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