Westchester Adds Mental Health First Responders to 911 Response Teams

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The newly trained crisis management personnel will become the county’s unarmed, frontline response to mental health emergencies.

Since December, Westchester residents experiencing a life-threatening emergency who dial 911 now have another option and resource designed specifically for those who experience or encounter a mental health crisis. County Executive George Latimer proposed the program as part of his “Reimagining Policing – Project Alliance” initiative last year. Under the 911 call diversion program, dispatchers at the other end of 911 calls identify and refer individuals to a mental health crisis network team, staffed by behavioral health professionals at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison.

“Project Alliance, our mental health crisis response program, is a necessary and important undertaking to ensure we best serve people who are in crisis in our county,” Latimer said in announcing the program. “This is a tremendous step toward making Project Alliance a reality, and I am deeply appreciative of the partnerships across this county that are making it happen.”

Mental health professionals who staff the crisis network will provide supportive services and help to de-escalate situations that have been traditionally left to emergency personnel such as armed police officers or EMS professionals. The team will connect responders to services and systems that can help address the cause of the crisis, and then direct the deployment of mobile crisis responded when deemed necessary.

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In the first phase of the rollout that began in December, the crisis team accepted emergency calls that were diverted from the Westchester County Department of Public Safety and Department of Emergency Services, the Port Chester Police Department, and the Village of Mamaroneck Police Department. When the program is fully operational and rolled out later this year, 911 diversion for mental health calls should be a first-instance option for every law enforcement agency in the county.

The county utilized a grant obtained by People USA, Inc to train 163 emergency call dispatchers, call takers, and desk officers across Westchester. County Department of Community Health (DCMH) Program Director Mark Giuliano and retired police Lieutenant Mike Hatch, who previously worked with the Mental Health Association (MHA) of the Southern Tier, will lead county staff members in conducting the training sessions.

“From our colleagues at the County’s Departments of Public Safety and Emergency Services to all the community and law enforcement partners that are making this work, the commitment to this collaboration has been nothing short of extraordinary,” says DCMH Commissioner Michael Orth regarding the program. “We are well on our way to having a seamless system of crisis intervention and diversion here in Westchester.”

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