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In March, the county's law enforcement agencies have been phasing-in the process of referring calls to the county's Mobile Crisis Response Team. Photo courtesy of San Diego County
In March, the county's law enforcement agencies have been phasing-in the process of referring calls to the county's Mobile Crisis Response Team. Photo courtesy of San Diego County
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All county law enforcement may now refer to Mobile Crisis Response Team

REGION — All 11 law enforcement agencies in the San Diego County region will now be able to refer mental health crisis calls that come into 911 to a county-sponsored Mobile Crisis Response Team, it was announced Thursday.

San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher made the announcement Thursday at the County Administration Center, joined by members of local law enforcement, county behavioral health experts and MCRT clinicians.

“Mobile Crisis Response Teams are working, and through this new collaboration with the 11 law enforcement agencies in San Diego County, their dispatch teams are now on the frontlines to make sure MCRT reaches people in need,” Fletcher said. “MCRT is operating around the clock and it is a better way to provide the right services at the right time.

“MCRT has responded to more than 1,200 referrals and with trained behavioral health experts being the first person a patient encounters, it changes their entry point into the healthcare system and changes their trajectory moving forward,” he said.

In March, the county’s law enforcement agencies — San Diego Unified Port District, La Mesa, San Diego, Carlsbad, El Cajon, Oceanside, Escondido, Chula Vista, National City, Coronado and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department — signed a memorandum with the county, and have since been phasing in the process of referring calls to MCRT.

As of Monday, all of the agencies are referring calls, but if someone is undergoing a mental health crisis, the county encourages people to first call its access and crisis line at 888-724-7240 to have a Mobile Crisis Response Team sent.

The Chula Vista Police Department and its Chief of Police Roxana Kennedy joined Fletcher at the announcement Thursday. Her department was an early adopter of dispatching MCRT through their 911 dispatchers.

“We are thankful for this partnership and we are committed to its success,” Kennedy said.

A dispatcher from the Chula Vista Police Department also gave testimony about her experiences diverting mental health crisis calls to the county’s crisis response teams.

There are 16 Mobile Crisis Response Teams working different shifts daily all across San Diego County and it is now a 24/7 initiative as of April of this year. Since January 2021, MCRTs have responded to 1,277 calls — 1,099 were from the access and crisis line and 178 from law enforcement.

“When someone is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, our teams of clinicians, case managers and peer staff that are trained to respond to a behavioral health crisis meet the person in the community where they live,” said Christian Hodges, a clinical director with county MCRT contractor Telecare and member of the teams responding. “We know how to deescalate the situation, connect with them on a personal level and provide them with the care, and services they need to improve their circumstances.”

According to the county’s self-reported data, around 47% of people referred to these teams were able to “be stabilized and remain in the community,” around 22% were transported to behavioral health services and 13% declined services. Overall, 20% of those who have been referred to MCRTs are people experiencing homelessness.

“It is so wonderful to see the many months of hard-work in collaboration and in partnership with law enforcement, the county and the MCRT contractors,” said Dr. Piedad Garcia, deputy director of the county’s Behavioral Health Department. “The ability to offer the community a non-law enforcement, clinician-led, behavioral health crisis response benefits the community, individuals and families who need assistance in a crisis.

“Although we have come a long way, the MCRT is still in its infancy stage and we will continue to expand and attend to the lessons learned,” she said. “Part of the growing process is learning and will continue to adjust and modify as needed based on input from the community and our partners, to ensure we continue to best meet the needs of our community.”