New Team of First Responders to Answer Mental Health Emergencies

Help is on the way for Dallas residents in need of mental health care during a crisis.

Starting Monday, Jan. 29, a team comprised of a police officer, paramedic and a mental health professional will respond to 911 calls involving patients experiencing behavioral emergencies.

The program, which will focus on south-central Dallas over the next two years, is called RIGHT — Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team — and is a joint effort by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, Dallas Police Department and Parkland Health & Hospital System.

A study by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute found 85 percent of calls in certain parts of Dallas were directly related to mental health emergencies.

Seventeen-thousand people with mental illness are booked into the Dallas County Jail every year.

Forty-percent return within a year of their release, according to the study.

"The goal is to meet those care needs in the community with the right level of care at the right time, rather than in a jail," said BJ Wagner, of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which compiled the data at the request of Dallas police.

"We knew that there had to be something different in the way we go about our business, the way way that we handle behavioral health calls," said Dallas Police Assistant Chief Paul Stokes.

Parkland employees had to undergo specialized training for their new role.

"They're used to being in a safe hospital setting with many resources around them and now are the mental health provider out on the team," said Celeste Johnson, vice president of behavioral health at Parkland.

The hope is the program will result in fewer people booked into jail during a mental health crisis while freeing up resources like ambulance crews and hospital beds.

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