City announces pilot program for Mental Health Emergency responses

Acting Mayor Kim Janey last week announced a pilot initiative to address the way the City of Boston responds to mental health crises – a pilot that several mayoral candidates and sitting City Councilors say they had first suggested.
A similar plan filed at the Council for an alternative police response was filed in 2020 by Councilors Michelle Wu, Lydia Edwards and Liz Beardon.
All that said, members of the South End Forum and Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) have been asking for an alternate response protocal for opioid issues and quality of life problems that didn’t involve calling 9-1-1 since at least 2017.
Janey said the pilot plan follows a call she made in April to amplify the role of mental health workers and reduce the role of police officers in response to mental health crises in the city. On Tuesday, after three D4 Police Officers were attacked by a mentally unstable man in front of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square – she said it only heightened the need for the pilot.
The pilot was developed by the City’s Mental Health Crisis Response Working Group, which included the heads of the Health and Human Services Cabinet, Emergency Medical Services and the Boston Police Department, as well as the Chief of Policy. Over the course of 15 weeks, the group assessed existing protocols for mental health crisis responses, reviewed best practices around the country; hosted over 10 community listening sessions; and administered resident surveys in multiple languages across Boston.
“I am proud to launch a pilot program that reimagines how we respond to mental health calls,” said Mayor Janey. “These pilot investments will connect residents – and their families – with the care they need as we bring more safety, justice, and healing to Boston neighborhoods.”
Funded with $1.75 million from the Health and Human Services Cabinet’s FY22 Budget, the pilot program will include three response models:
•Co-response will improve and expand dedicated teams of police officers and mental health workers to respond to 911 calls that report a mental health crisis with a safety risk. Implementation of improvements to Boston’s co-response program will begin in September.
*Currently, dispatch of co-response takes place on a case-by-case basis. The pilot initiative standardizes this process. Dispatchers will automatically ask if a co-response team is available to respond to mental health calls that pose a safety risk. This component of the pilot will begin in September.
*In addition, co-response cars with a police officer and mental health worker can currently be asked to respond to any call type. The pilot will designate dedicated co-response cars, which will only be dispatched to calls that are likely to have a mental health concern. This component of the pilot will begin in October, in Boston Police Districts A1 and B2, in the Downtown/Charlestown and Roxbury neighborhoods.
•Alternative response will deploy teams of Emergency Medical Technicians and mental health workers to respond to 911 calls that report a mental health crisis without a safety risk. Work to develop this model will begin immediately, in partnership with unions representing BPD and EMS employees.
•Community-led response will begin with a facilitated, community-led process to propose a model of mental health response that is led by trained community members who may have lived experience with mental illness and with the communities they’re serving. A request for proposal for the facilitator of the community-led response model will open in September, followed by a community design process that starts in December.
In Boston, more than 10,000 mental health calls were placed to 911 in 2020. Analysis of last year’s data showed incidents city wide, with the highest call volumes in Dorchester, Roxbury, and the South End, a pattern that also reflects higher call volume overall in these neighborhoods. Based on the data and district resources, new dedicated co-response cars will be available Downtown/Charlestown and in Roxbury. The new alternative response unit will be available city-wide.

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