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LA County Will Add More Unarmed Teams To Respond To Mental Health Crises

A billboard with a green background and the illustration of a mustachioed man reads: MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS and includes the phone number 800-854-771
A billboard in Long Beach promotes L.A. County's mental health services.
(Megan Garvey
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L.A. County will expand its unarmed response to people having a mental health crisis.

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to roughly double the number of Department of Mental Health Psychiatric Mobile Response teams.

There are about 30 of the unarmed two-person teams of clinicians for the entire county. But demand is so high that response times can be several hours, or even a full day.

The county’s plan is to roughly double the number of teams by changing their makeup. The Department of Mental Health will now be able to hire 60 peer workers — people who have lived experience with mental illness — to team up with clinicians.

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The mobile response teams are an alternative to the Mental Evaluation Teams at the Sheriff’s Department, which pair up a clinician and an armed deputy.

“It feels like every day … I read about the mental health crisis that we’re facing as a country ... and how our over-reliance on law enforcement doesn’t get us the positive results and outcomes that we so desperately need,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-authored the motion.

In 2020, the mobile response teams went out on more than 20,000 calls, with roughly 7,000 of those leading to a patient being placed in a hospital, according to Dr. Amanda Ruiz, acting deputy director of the Department of Mental Health’s Intensive Care Division.

The supervisors also agreed to seek contracts with private groups that can provide round-the-clock mobile crisis teams to supplement the county’s efforts.

Supervisors want the mobile response teams to eventually be available 24/7 as part of preparations for the launch of 988, the national hotline for mental health crises that launches next summer.

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The county will tap a number of funding sources for the expansion, including a $51 million one-time state grant and $18.5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan.

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Robert Garrova is reporting on the intersection of mental health and law enforcement.