HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council passed three ordinances on Wednesday that will allocate the city of Houston American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) funding into behavioral health programs that are intended to assist the Houston Police Department when handling mental health crisis calls.
The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD has been leading the charge in assisting the police with mobile mental health intervention. CEO Wayne Young said the funding approved Wednesday will allow them to make the program 24/7.
“We wanted to do everything we can to reduce the footprint of the criminal justice system in the lives of those with serious mental illness,” Young said.
The three ordinances passed today:
• Mobile Crisis Outreach Team - an interdisciplinary mobile team comprised of psychiatrists, registered nurses, and licensed clinicians specializing in crisis intervention and rapid response. Within MCOT, there will be the Crisis Call Diversion Program, a 24-hour coverage program aimed at diverting mental health crisis calls that are non-criminal/non-violent to counselors and community mental health providers rather than sending first responders to investigate. (Approximately $12.6 million approved today)
• Crisis Intervention Response Teams - a specialized program that pairs a mental health clinician with a law enforcement partner. (Approximately $2.4 million was approved Wednesday for the Subrecipient Agreement between the City of Houston and The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD)
• Clinician Officer Remote Evaluation - a telehealth strategy for responding to mental health crisis calls using a tablet and a HIPAA-approved technology platform to connect a law enforcement first responder with a mental health clinician in the community at the time of the 911 dispatch. (Approximately $2.5 million approved today)
Wayne said the tablets also allow their clinicians to do mental health evaluations and then be available for another call faster because it eliminates commute time. Overall, the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD is hopeful this partnership will help both civilians and officers.
“There’s not a crime, they are not victims, what we really have is a mental health crisis. We’ll be able to identify those calls as they come in to 911 and instead of sending a law-enforcement team, we’ll send a mental health response team to those individuals and never have, hopefully, a law-enforcement response in those situations,” Young said. “That’s really a powerful tool as well to reduce that interaction and frankly an interaction that may not be necessary in most cases. We don’t want to have mental health interact with law enforcement if it’s really a healthcare issue. We would much rather have healthcare providers be a part of that response.”
Mayor Turner said in a few weeks he plans to discuss two more clinician teams, which would bring the total to 20.