Pilot Program Launched To Help Those With Mental Health Crisis

January 9, 2024 ·

SANTA MONICA—On Monday, January 8, the city of Santa Monica announced that first responders will have access to a dedicated behavioral health team to better assist individuals in need of mental health support, as a result of a partnership between the city and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

The pilot program, launched on Monday provides a specialized therapeutic transport team that will be available five days a week to assist Santa Monica Police and Fire personnel with 911 and non-emergency calls for service that involve individuals who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. The partnership with the Department of Mental Health (DMH) is part of city’s aim to collaborate with regional service providers for a coordinated, holistic approach to addressing homelessness.

According to a news release from the city of Santa Monica, two Santa Monica-based teams will staff the van for eight hours per day to begin. The three-member therapeutic transport teams include a driver, a peer support specialist and a clinical social worker. During the first month of the program it will involve the team training and integration with first responders.

They will be accompanying first responders and have the ability, if appropriate, to independently handle calls for service. That approach will allow for more targeted and tailored responses focused on behavioral health care, while expanding first responders’ capacity to address other emergency calls.

The team will have the ability to do a psychiatric transport to an urgent mental healthcare facility or hospital, as well as impose a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization, known as a 5150 hold, for any individual who is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. The team can assist with lower-level needs for someone in crisis. The pilot program will initially focus in the downtown area, with a focus to expanding citywide.

“This pilot allows us to provide a meaningful and appropriate level of response to support someone experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Mayor Phil Brock. “Mental health is a critical community need, particularly when it comes to our efforts to address homelessness, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with our partners at DMH to strengthen and enhance supportive resources in Santa Monica.”

The Santa Monica City Council committed $464,000 to fund the pilot program, and the county of Los Angeles provided $1.7 million for staffing resources. The goal is to expand the program to develop a county behavioral health team, led by a clinical social worker that can be available in Santa Monica 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This new resource builds on the Santa Monica City Council action from 2023 that secured additional funding for community mental health resources.

“Santa Monica’s therapeutic transport program launching this week demonstrates the power of Measure H and Los Angeles County’s emergency declaration for homelessness — a declaration also made by the city of Santa Monica, which has long championed local investments to address homelessness,” said Chair of the Board of Supervisors Lindsey P. Horvath, Third District. “Homelessness will best be solved by scaling solutions just like this one that meet people where they are with care and support from the county’s Department of Mental Health. I’m grateful for city leaders’ resolve to partner, innovate and create lasting solutions for those in greatest need.”

The service will benefit a range of clients, such as a teenager considering suicide, a senior experiencing dementia or a person experiencing homelessness impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Staff are trained to connect people to supportive case management and other recovery-focused interventions, as well as transport them to a behavioral health facility if needed. Santa Monica is the third jurisdiction in Los Angeles County to partner with the DMH to deploy a new approach to responding to mental health needs in the community, and this partnership is set to inform future efforts to deploy behavioral health resources across the county.

“The Department of Mental Health is proud to collaborate with the city of Santa Monica to expand mental health services through this real-time, mobile resource aimed at meeting critical needs on the Westside,” said Director Dr. Lisa Wong. “In the months ahead, we look forward to seeing the results and the impact made by working side-by-side with our partners in the city of Santa Monica.”

For details about behavioral health visit https://www.santamonica.gov/future-of-behavioral-health. For background on Los Angeles County’s Therapeutic Transport Program, click here.

By Trevor

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