Baltimore City Expanding Behavioral Health 9-1-1 Diversion Program

Baltimore City, a national leader in its work to divert 9-1-1 calls to community partners and behavioral health specialists, is expanding the 9-1-1 Diversion Behavioral Health Pilot program.

The pilot program, which matches individuals to the most appropriate and available resources when they call for assistance and reduces unnecessary police encounters with people in behavioral crises, is expanding to include youth-focused mobile crisis teams. The City is also placing behavioral health clinicians in its 9-1-1 center to support 9-1-1 specialists in de-escalating crises and screening to determine the most appropriate response.

“Defining what policing looks like for a community is one of the most important decisions any local government can make,” said Mayor Scott. “Clearly, status quo solutions for policing, public safety, and addressing the needs of those experiencing behavioral health crises are not delivering the best outcomes for our residents.”

Under the program, 9-1-1 specialists transfer appropriate calls to the Here2Help line, a mental health services line operated by Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. and staffed by trained mental health clinicians. Here2Help can resolve calls over the phone or dispatch a team of clinician responders.

Through the data fellows program, housed within the Mayor’s Office of Performance and Innovation, a public-facing dashboard is now available for residents to follow the progress and impact of the behavioral health diversion pilot.

US Senator Chris Van Hollen, an advocate for 9-1-1 diversion, secured a $2 million federal investment earlier this year to expand the pilot program.

“Emergencies involving a behavioral health crisis are best handled by trained professionals,” said Senator Van Hollen. “That’s why I introduced legislation to implement alternative solutions to crises that don’t require a police response, and why I was proud to join Mayor Scott for the launch of the 9-1-1 Diversion Pilot Program and to secure federal funding for this program.”

Through this federal investment, the partnership will expand the behavioral health diversion pilot program to have a non-police response to more behavioral health calls that come in through 9-1-1 by:

  • Adding youth under the age of 18 as eligible for diversion by creating youth-focused mobile crisis teams
  • Co-locating a behavioral health clinician in the 9-1-1 call center to support 9-1-1 call takers in de-escalating crises and conducting screening to determine the most appropriate response

“This critical program is part of a vision for a system of care that prevents people from unnecessary contact with law enforcement and diverts them to services and resources that adequately meet their needs,” said Mayor Scott. “I am sincerely grateful for the support provided by Senator Van Hollen and the partnership of Behavioral Health System Baltimore and Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. in ensuring this essential initiative is sustained.”

According to a City press release:

The behavioral health diversion is currently limited to those aged 18 and older. This provision is due to the gaps in crisis services for children and youth in Baltimore City. Creating child and youth-focused mobile crisis teams will allow the pilot to expand capacity so that calls received by 9-1-1 from youth and families can be safely diverted to mobile response teams that can serve any child in the City.

Expanding to include youth in the program has been a priority identified by community members and stakeholders such as the Collaborative Planning and Implementation Committee (CPIC). Given the complexity of these calls, the high-pressure nature of handling 9-1-1 calls, and the limited training call-takers receive in behavioral health; there is a need for real-time support to call-takers with making the appropriate classification and linking callers to the necessary resources. Co-locating a behavioral health clinician in the 9-1-1 call center is a practice that has been adopted in several communities across the country. T

The primary role of the clinicians will be to support 9-1-1 call takers in de-escalating crises and conducting screening to determine the most appropriate response. As the local behavioral health authority for the city, Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB) will partner with the city and oversee the planning and implementation of this expansion.

An internal working group, which includes a data analyst and the Baltimore City Fire Department’s medical director, continues to provide quality assurance.

This diversion pilot program is one aspect of the city’s Behavioral Health Gap Analysis Implementation Plan. The City developed the implementation plan to address the recommendations identified within the Public Behavioral Health System Gap Analysis Report published in 2019.

Visit the Baltimore City website for more information.