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Baltimore's Behavioral Health Pilot Program Aims To Provide New Youth Services

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Mayor Brandon Scott on Thursday announced the launch of a public dashboard that allows Baltimoreans to follow the progress of a behavioral health pilot program that diverts some 911 calls to community partners and behavioral health specialists.

The pilot program steers some calls to a Here2Help line, which is a mental health services line operated by Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. (BCRI).

BCRI is staffed by trained mental health clinicians, according to city officials.

The prime objective of the Here2Help line is to resolve calls over the phone and, in some cases, dispatch a team of clinician responders.

Scott described the program as "critical" and "part of a vision" of a response system that provides people with the services and resources that will help them while preventing them from unnecessarily contacting police.

The pilot program began by diverting two suicidal ideation call types, city officials said.

This year, through the quality assurance process, the program expanded to include a third similar call type in April, the mayor's office said. 

That third call type includes youth under the age of 18. This group is eligible for diversion because the pilot program has created youth-focused mobile crisis teams, city officials said.

That provision is due to the gaps in crisis services for youth in Baltimore. 

Additionally, the 911 call center has a behavioral health clinician who is tasked with determining the most appropriate response to a person in crisis.

"Defining what policing looks like for a community is one of the most consequential decisions any local government can make," Scott said. "Clearly, the status quo solutions for policing, public safety, and addressing the needs of those experiencing behavioral health crises are not providing the best outcomes for our residents."

This method of steering callers toward appropriate resources aligns with federal guidelines and the requirements of Baltimore's consent decree with the Department of Justice, and demonstrates a commitment to addressing gaps in the public behavioral health system, the city said.

The city said having a behavioral health clinician in the call center is a practice that has been adopted in several communities across the country.

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