Reducing Psychiatric Emergency Calls

Candace Anderson

By Candace Anderson

In California our Counties have the responsibility to provide mental health services for our communities. In Contra Costa we continually look for innovative approaches to address this serious issue. As we’ve seen in many recent tragic events, the mentally ill often come in contact with law enforcement. We’re actively doing something about this in our County.


A new partnership with Contra Costa Behavioral Health (BHS) is helping police agencies within the county to reduce potentially dangerous psychiatric incidents by connecting clinicians to people encountered by officers who show signs of serious mental illness.


The Mental Health Evaluation Team (MHET) partners BHS mental health clinicians with trained police officers to perform voluntary follow-up visits to people whose mental health challenges have resulted in repeated police calls for violent or threatening behavior, or who have been involuntarily hospitalized due to psychiatric crisis. They provide preventive referrals and resource information to help individuals and families find services.


The clinicians offer behavioral health services proactively to those who are most at risk of psychiatric crises or involved with the legal system, before another police intervention is needed. This not only improves the lives of people struggling with mental illness but will also help keep communities safer. The program is also expected to reduce public costs associated with repeated police visits and emergency psychiatric treatment, including ambulance transports and hospital admissions.


The Concord, Pittsburg and Richmond police departments have each designated an officer for the MHET program, and BHS has hired three full-time clinicians through a $550,000, three-year state grant. Patrol officers from those departments, as well as neighboring police agencies, can now refer cases to their region’s MHET for follow up. The MHET officer and partnering clinician together connect with referred parties to offer help, such as referrals to outpatient treatment and benefits.


MHET does not wait for its consumers to ask for services. It goes to them, working with law enforcement partners to offer follow-up after an emergency call for service involving a psychiatric event. The MHET program prioritizes public resources to stop endless cycles of crises response that may do little to actually help consumers get connected to ongoing care. While new to Contra Costa, the MHET model has been successful elsewhere in California, including Oakland, San Mateo, Los Angeles and San Diego.


Expanding access is the goal of many efforts in our mental health system – access has always been the priority behind our integration efforts – every door is the right door – and that door is getting bigger and more inclusive as we add new approaches to overcoming challenges. For more information about MHET in Contra Costa County, contact David Seidner at [email protected].


My office is here to serve the residents of Contra Costa County District 2, which includes San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Walnut Creek, Saranap, Parkmead, Lafayette, Moraga, Canyon and Orinda. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can provide you with additional information on this topic or on other County issues. I can be reached at [email protected] or 925-957-8860.