Los Angeles County supervisors recently voted to fund several mental health services, at the urging of District Attorney Jackie Lacey and others who are lobbying to keep mentally ill people out of county jails.
The $40.9 million in state funding will be used to open three new 24-hour psychiatric urgent care clinics, where police can bring patients experiencing mental health crises for treatment, as opposed to taking them to overcrowded hospital emergency rooms or county jails.
In addition, the funding will also be used to help pay for nearly 560 new residential treatment beds, and to create 14 new psychiatric crisis teams that send mental health workers — sometimes alongside law enforcement officers — to respond to situations involving people who may be mentally ill.
The total cost of the programs is estimated to be nearly $109.4 million, and will be paid for by the new grant money in addition to other state funding initiatives. Lacey, who is spearheading the task force researching diversion of the mentally ill, feels the decision is groundbreaking. “Up until now, jail has been used to stabilize people,” Lacey said.
A report commissioned by Lacey’s task force released last month found the need for additional crisis response teams and mental health urgent care facilities. The report’s findings concluded that essentially, it’s often more time-efficient and convenient for law enforcement officers to book an individual into a county jail for a minor charge than it is to spend hours waiting in a overcrowded and understaffed psychiatric emergency department for the patient to be seen.
“Offering any patient access to mental health facilities is important; especially since the traditional medical systems such an ER (emergency room) aren’t really equipped to address minor psychological issues and that’s often what needs to be addressed, minor issues not life altering issues,” says Alison Hare, Practice Administrator, AFC/Doctors Express Urgent Care of Englewood, Colorado. “Having a place for patients to go (whether they’re brought there by police/their own choice/a loved one) and giving them an option is extremely beneficial and helpful to not only to prevent overcrowding the ER but also to provide the patient with a reasonable and timely access to psychiatric care.”
Jim Smith, Monterey Park Police Chief and member of Lacey’s task force, told supervisors the new initiatives and expanded clinics will expedite the intake process for officers, allowing them to “be back on the street in 15 minutes rather than hours.”
Early next year, the task force is scheduled to present a comprehensive set of recommendations to the board. Several other advocates have come forward in order to show support, and spoke in favor of the task force’s efforts.