Feature Photo: Stockton City Council members Paul Canepa, Susan Lenz and Kimberly Warmsley at the council meeting on June 27. (ROBYN JONES/CONTRIBUTOR)
Stockton will soon deploy crisis intervention workers rather than police or fire crews to handle some nonviolent and low-level 911 calls involving mental health issues.
The city is following a nationwide trend in rethinking who is best equipped to respond to situations where individuals are suffering from a behavioral health crisis, such as suicide attempts, intoxication and welfare checks.
Stockton City Council unanimously approved a nearly $6 million contract with Community Medical Centers at its meeting Tuesday night to design and launch a three-year mobile crisis intervention pilot program. The funds will come from the more than $78 million in ARPA money Stockton has received to offset effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilmember Kimberly Warmsley said she is “really, really rooting” for the new pilot program.
“This is probably one of the most exciting highlights of my two years that I’ve been here,” Warmsley said just before voting to approve the contract. “The need is so there in this community, and it really breaks my heart that we do not have enough providers to really tackle the challenges.”
Mobile Care Link program will be utilized
CMC will utilize its existing Care Link Community Response program as a framework for the new pilot program.
Care Link is a mobile health care unit that has been around since 2001 and already deploys similarly-needed resources throughout San Joaquin County to individuals who are experiencing or are at risk of becoming homeless, according to City Council agenda documents. The county’s “only longest-running medical homeless outreach team” provides medical and behavioral health treatment to more than 3,000 patients every year at no cost. Services have included wound care, treatment of infections, medication, substance abuse, benefit enrollment, housing, etc.
While the Care Link program runs countywide, officials say Stockton funds will only be used for this new city initiative.
Stockton first responders, such as police, fire and emergency medical services, will coordinate with CMC to support residents dealing with behavioral and mental health concerns, the city says. Patients will also have access to the medical centers’ wraparound services and additional services, such as transitional housing, nursing facilities, residential substance abuse treatment and transportation, through its partnerships with other community-based organizations.
“(B)ehavioral health units will dispatch to incidents where subjects are experiencing behavioral/mental health symptoms or social service needs that can be effectively addressed by mobile health care professionals who are trained in trauma-informed care, improving cost to patients and the efficiency of emergency responder and hospital resources,” according to the city.
911 calls, which are initially routed to the Stockton Police Department dispatch center, will be screened to determine which organization should respond, Stockton Fire Chief Richard Edward said. The goal is to keep callers who would be better served by a Care Link crisis team, whom dispatch operators will be trained to identify through a series of questions, out of the traditional emergency response system.
“We’re working through that call dialog right now,” Edwards said.
Stockton has worked with the medical centers, as well as police and fire, over the last four months in preparing to launch the mobile crisis program pilot program, city and CMC staff said. CMC CEO Christine Noguera says the organization has also been in contact with the Oregon-based CAHOOTS, credited with first designing and implementing the idea of mobile crisis intervention more than 30 years ago, and Call Stockton, which has advocated over the last few years and initially proposed its own idea for a similar program.
New program will begin on limited schedule
The city’s new program will initially run part time, operating with one team three days a week during peak hours, with the goal of eventually being full time with three to four teams ensuring services seven days a week, Noguera said. Each team will be made up of a licensed clinician, outreach worker and case manager and utilize Care Link vans as response vehicles when a call comes in.
“We will also have a follow up team that will connect with individuals that have been encountered through the crisis response,” Noguera said.
The next step will be for CMC to form partnerships through requests for proposals with other community-based organizations that will help fulfill all the mobile crisis unit services and work with the city to firm up the program’s logistics, city spokesperson Connie Cochran said Wednesday afternoon. The first crisis team will likely be deployed at the beginning of next year.
Stockton Police Chief Stan McFadden described the proposed program as phenomenal and said his experience with similar models in San Jose were “very effective.”
“Historically, we’re used to having the loud speakers of officers shouting for the person to come out the house. Well, now we have a commission that can mitigate the situations, that has that skill set at the scene,” McFadden said. “I think we all know that the way policing has changed, it’s about having the right people at the scene at the right time. So the partnership will be strong.”