The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) announced Oct. 26 that by January, the county will be equipped with response vans for individuals in mental health crises through a new pilot program. LACDMH proposed the program in September 2018, and implementation was originally slated for January 2019.
“This has been a long time coming,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said at a news conference regarding the program.
The goal of the program is to transform the county’s response to mental health crises. The LA County Board of Supervisors adopted a motion in 2017 to develop “humane treatment for those suffering from mental illness and are unwilling and/or incapable of accepting care,” according to the project proposal. Through the program, LACDMH hopes to reduce the need to dispatch law enforcement and ambulances in mental health crises that still require response as well as reduce wait times for response vehicles, for which clients may often wait several hours, according to the proposal.
“Individuals placed on holds in LA County have often believed there is disregard for their dignity and rights, and the mere incident of transport via ambulance or law enforcement can make their mental health issues unwantedly visible to others in the neighborhood,” according to the proposal.
Everything about the response vehicles, from the appearance to who is servicing them, is designed with therapeutic techniques in mind. The vans, “designed with a therapeutic interior to ease the stress of the situation,” will be staffed with a multidisciplinary team trained in deescalation, engagement and therapeutic support that will be able to evaluate whether the individual will need short-term or long-term treatment.
The vans will also be equipped with technology to streamline communication with other mental health services and hospitals, if necessary. Early and real-time communication with mental health care providers during the transport will allow the provider to make arrangements for the individual in crisis as quickly as possible. The team will also serve as an immediate resource for the individual to explain the situation and be alongside the client for support in case of admission to a hospital.
The project hopes to expand mental health intervention resources to those traditionally unengaged and underserved in the community and, through the therapeutic methods that offer an alternative to calling law enforcement or an ambulance, encourage those individuals to seek assistance.
At the news conference, supervisor Janice Hahn did note that state law will have to change to allow for more dispatch options through a 911 call.
“When someone is having a mental health crisis, the best thing to do is call for help. But we need to make sure the right help arrives,” Hahn said.
Five LA Fire Department stations will have response vans for the yearlong pilot program: Fire Station 4, Central Bureau, 450 E. Temple St.; Fire Station 64, 10811 S. Main St.; Fire Station 62 West, 11970 Venice Ave.; Fire Station 36 South, 1005 N. Gaffey St., in San Pedro; and Fire Station 77 Valley, 9224 Sunland Blvd., in Sun Valley, the Daily Breeze reported.