Mayor Turner and City Council approve funding for 3 mental health initiatives

HOUSTON — Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City Council on Wednesday passed three ordinances that will allocate funding from the City of Houston’s American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) to behavioral health programs to help the Houston Police Department during the handling mental health crisis calls.

The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD led the charge in assisting police with mobile mental health interventions. CEO Wayne Young said the funding approved on Wednesday will allow them to run the program 24/7.

“We wanted to do everything we could to reduce the footprint of the criminal justice system in the lives of people with serious mental illness, Young said.

The three ordinances passed today:

• Mobile Crisis Response Team – an interdisciplinary mobile team comprised of psychiatrists, registered nurses and licensed clinicians specializing in crisis response and rapid response. Within MCOT there will be the Crisis Call Diversion Program, a 24-hour coverage program aimed at diverting non-criminal/non-violent mental health crisis calls to counselors and community mental health providers rather than send first responders to investigate. (Approximately $12.6 million approved today)

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• Response and Crisis Response Teams – a specialized program that pairs a mental health clinician with a law enforcement partner. (About $2.4 million was approved Wednesday for the sub-recipient agreement between the City of Houston and the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD)

• Clinician Agent Remote Assessment – ​​a telehealth strategy to respond to mental health crisis calls using a tablet and a HIPAA-approved technology platform to connect an IDF first responder order with a mental health clinician in the community at the time of dispatching 911. (Approximately $2.5 million approved today)

Wayne said the tablets also allow their clinicians to do mental health assessments and then be available for another call more quickly because it eliminates travel time. Overall, the Harris Center for Mental Health and the IDD hope this partnership will help both civilians and officers.

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“There is no crime, these are not victims, what we really have is a mental health crisis. We will be able to identify those calls as they come in to 911 and instead of sending a law enforcement team we will send a mental health response team to those people and we hopefully never get a response from law enforcement in these situations,” Young said. “It’s also a powerful tool to reduce that interaction and frankly an interaction that may not be necessary in most cases. We don’t want mental health interacting with law enforcement if it really is a health issue. We would much rather see healthcare providers as part of that response.

Mayor Turner said in a few weeks he plans to discuss two more teams of clinicians, bringing the total to 20.

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