The program addresses concerns about the use of police to respond to mental health crises, which can sometimes result in fatal consequences, an issue that has gained attention with police shootings nationwide of individuals who are in severe mental health crises.
"Obviously, when the police are needed, we want them there. But we've got to be smarter and more adept about getting the right kind of help to the right place in the right set of circumstances. It's not easy, but it can be done. And now we'll have the teams and tools to do it. Simply put, we're working to ensure the right response in a moment of crisis," said Simitian, chair of the county's Health and Hospital Committee.
"Folks need to feel safe when calling for help. We need to do everything we can to respond quickly and connect folks in crisis with the kind of help they need. TRUST, our county's latest mobile response program, offers a new intervention option that provides in-person support at the time of crisis that does not involve police," Simitian said.
When the TRUST program is fully operational, community members will be able to call the new national suicide-prevention lifeline, 988, on a 24/7 basis to access services. Calls coming from area codes 408, 669 and 650 within Santa Clara County will be directed to the county's Suicide and Crisis Services Call Center. Residents without those area codes may access the county's services by calling 800-704-0900 and pressing 1.
The call will be assessed and evaluated by clinical staff from Pacific Clinics, which is based in the south bay, in real time to determine if the situation can be resolved through de-escalation over the phone or if it is necessary to dispatch in-person help.
Momentum for Health's north county location will provide in-person crisis response services, including mental and medical health assessments, stabilization and on-site resolution, and transportation to another place of service for stabilization, if needed. The team will use a specialized TRUST vehicle, which has a safe, calming and therapeutic interior environment for transportation. The vehicle's exterior is also intentionally designed to ensure that it doesn't cause additional anxiety or stress for people who need on-site assistance, according to Simitian's announcement, which was a joint statement with the two nonprofits.
"A mental health crisis can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, education and income level. It can occur at any time," said Karen Meagher, clinical director of crisis continuum of service of Pacific Clinics. The program also provides resources for future support and a plan for those in need, she said.
Dr. Shefali Miller, chief medical officer of Momentum for Health, said TRUST aims to provide consistent mental health resources for north county communities and help people feel safe when they reach out in need of help.
"Having 24/7 crisis support available a phone call away, even at your doorstep if needed, provided by someone who is a mental health professional and knows how overwhelming it can feel to be in a crisis situation, is essential to resolving the situation," Miller said.
The past two years of pandemic challenges have created more anxiety and mental health issues for young people in particular, Simitian noted in April. Last year, the county's Mobile Crisis Response Team program received nearly 5,000 calls for service — 1,600 more than in 2020 — and nearly 3,800 more than in 2019. The county-operated program of mental health clinicians, who work closely with law enforcement, is dispatched to the scene when people in crisis have mental health symptoms, particularly if they are suicidal or need an evaluation for psychiatric hospitalization.
In April, the Board of Supervisors approved a $2 million package proposed by Simitian to fund an expansion of the Mobile Crisis Response Team through 2025, which includes a four-person team based in the north county. The team has specialized training to respond to the needs of young people ages 16 to 24.
In addition, county residents can also currently access the county's Mobile Response Stabilization Service, which offers 24/7 in-person or telephone crisis counseling. The service is operated by Pacific Clinics to support children, youth, and young adults through age 21 who are in a non-life-threatening, acute psychological or emotional crisis.
In December, the Palo Alto Police Department partnered with the county to launch a local Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT). Calls for a PERT response are 911-generated and don't go through the 988 system. The program pairs a licensed mental health clinician with a law enforcement officer to respond to calls involving people in active, acute mental health crises.
Simitian, who has long advocated for additional mental health services for north county residents, is glad to see "real progress," he said.
"The need has been evident, but standing up these teams has been challenging. Fortunately, there's a growing number of mental health professionals who understand the importance of crisis response," he said.
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