Pew investigation finds 911 call centers lack proper training for behavioral health crises

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When people call 911 for an emergency, online carriers are responsible for processing caller information and deciding who to send to the scene. Still, there is no standard national protocol on how to handle emergency calls, and there are over 5,000 separate call centers across the country, creating an inconsistent system.

The survey, conducted by Pew in conjunction with the National Emergency Number Association, aimed to find out how 911 call centers deal with behavioral crisis events.

To conduct the investigation, Pew sent a questionnaire to 233 call centers across the country. They eventually received 37 responses in 27 states, so the study cannot be considered nationally representative, the organization noted.

Nonetheless, this adds key information about the resources available to 911 call centers to deal with behavioral health crises. Responses indicate that centers have limited training in handling such calls, limited options for sending specialized responses, and inconsistent data collection.

Of the 37 responding centers, 25 stated that their correspondents and dispatchers had not received specialized training in a crisis intervention team (CIT) or training related to crises related to mental health or substance use. . Additionally, 23 of 37 responding centers said they did not have access to behavioral health clinicians, Pew found.

“To develop best practices for these emergencies – including possible alternatives to arrest or other criminal justice responses – it is crucial to identify, understand and address gaps in the crisis response system. “Pew said in a statement.

“While Pew’s research presents only an overview of 911 emergency services in a small number of communities across the country, the findings suggest a need to better understand the challenges that call centers face in doing so. addressing mental health and substance use emergencies, and to develop policy solutions tailored to the unique circumstances of each call center and its service area. “

The investigation is particularly relevant as some cities have abandoned sending police officers to deal with such situations, fearing the interactions could lead to fatal shootings or the deaths of people in crisis. Several high-profile incidents, such as the death of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, or the 2015 police shooting of a naked and mentally ill black veteran in Georgia, have underscored the fatal risks involved.

The police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May, and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests, have also led some cities to take a closer look at sending trained social workers to deal with crisis situations. rather than armed police.

Perhaps the primary model for such a system is the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon. CAHOOTS – or Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets – is made up of a team of young doctors and mental health counselors who are dispatched to respond to mental health crises, homelessness, substance abuse and suicide threats.
According to the agency, CAHOOTS stakeholders handled 17% of city 911 calls in 2017. The program said that of the 24,000 calls it answered in 2019, only about 150 of them required police assistance.

CNN’s Peter Nickeas and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.


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