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Mental health 911 assistance

Published (2/13/2009)
By Mike Cook
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When someone calls 911, it is usually for police, fire or ambulance service.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL-Mpls) would add mental health crisis teams to the list of emergency 911 responders, where available.

“I think we’re all aware of the need for quick responses when somebody is having an emergency because of their mental illness, and we need to have them referred to a mental health crisis team,” Mullery said.

Approved Feb. 5 by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee, HF448 was sent to the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee. It has no Senate companion.

Sue Hanson, who sits on the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota Board of Directors, said there is no one general number to call for someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

She pointed to a collaboration between Grand Rapids public safety personnel that has resulted in a crisis team and police dispatched for all behavioral health emergency calls.

“Mobile crisis teams can go to a person’s home, assess the situation and provide services to stabilize the individual who is in crisis,” she said. “There are urgent and crisis services at mental health centers and clinics, crisis homes provide a safe place where people can live for a few days while they receive supportive therapy, stabilization, monitoring and transitions to other services. These are very cost-effective ways of dealing with a mental health crisis.”

The bill would also permit the county or other governmental agency operating an emergency 911 system to include mental health crisis training among its system enhancements.

Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) wondered what the costs would be to bring dispatchers “up to speed on this type of referral.”

Mullery countered that the bill says the training may be offered, so if counties opt not to provide it for whatever reason they don’t have to.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), the committee chairwoman, said fiscal implications will be evaluated as the bill goes through the process.

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