mental health

LA's Non-Police Mental Health Responders Have Been Idled for Months

An alternative response pilot program was expected to send mental health counselors to some emergencies. Months later, the program is stalled.

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An alternative response pilot program that was supposed to begin sending mental health counselors to some emergencies around Los Angeles in January has been stalled, and the crisis workers have yet to roll on a single call.

A critical agreement that establishes the logistics and responsibilities of the program has been awaiting approval by the Los Angeles City Council's public safety committee since early May, and now officials say the soonest the teams could begin handling calls is mid-July, more than six months after Mayor Eric Garcetti said the program would start.

"Today we're talking about a new way to co-own public safety," Garcetti said on Oct. 26, 2020. "That's why I'm especially proud that we're stepping up with a new model."

The one-year therapeutic van pilot project will divert some 9-1-1 calls that would have gone to paramedics or firefighters to teams of counselors stationed at five fire stations around the city. It was announced in response to public and activist demands that the city find alternatives to law enforcement for non-criminal emergencies.

Several city officials have told the I-Team that at the time the plans were announced few formal agreements had been reached on how the city and county would share costs, where the response teams would be housed and stationed, and who would drive the vans. 

"It was optimistic to think that we were going to get it done in January," LA County Department of Mental Health deputy director Dr. Amanada Ruiz told the I-Team in response to inquiries about the status of the project.

"It was bringing together two agencies that have a lot of different things they have to work out," she explained, and said the County has already hired the specialized mental health workers and peer counselors needed to staff the program and was ready to start immediately. 

Mayor Garcetti's office has not responded throughout June to requests for comment on the program. Several City Council members involved in the project expressed frustration at the delays but said they were not available for interviews Tuesday.

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