Mental Health Emergency Dispatch Program launches in D.C.


WASHINGTON (WDVM) — District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser is launching a pilot program that will change the way 911 calls related to mental-health emergencies are dispatched. The announcement of the program aligns with Mental Health Awareness Month, and the program will launch in June.

For the program, the Department of Behavioral Health’s Community Response Team will serve as specialized, rapid response teams to be dispatched for mental-health-related 911 calls, rather than automatically deploying Metropolitan Police Department officers.

Multiple city agencies partnered for the pilot program, including the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, the Office of the City Administrator, the Office of Unified Communications, and the Department of Behavioral Health.

“This program builds on all our efforts to make sure we are providing residents the right care at the right time,” said Mayor Bowser. “The sooner we can identify what a person needs – whether that is an ambulance, a doctor’s appointment, or in this case, a visit from a behavioral health expert, the sooner we can help them. That’s what this is about: making sure we get Washingtonians the help they need when they call us.”

Before the program launches, 9-1-1 operators will receive specialized training to identify situations when the Community Response Team units should be engaged, or whether a police response is needed/appropriate.

“This initiative strengthens the clinical response to all crisis calls for mental health care including those that come directly to DBH, as well as those through the 911 system to get people the best, most appropriate treatment and supports they need, ” said D.B.H. Director Dr. Barbara J. Bazron.

The Office of Unified Communications is finalizing the call types most appropriate for the pilot, forecasting potential call volumes, and reviewing past incident outcomes in coordination with other District agencies.

The Community Response Team, which currently is dispatched to hundreds of calls each month, will work with community partners and consumer-led groups to promote the availability of clinician-led teams for emergency mental health care.

At the conclusion of the pilot program, the Office of Unified Communication and the Department of Behavioral Health will analyze the results to determine additional modifications that could further improve behavioral health outcomes.

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