Federal Funds Set Aside To Create Mental Health Crisis Response Teams

Federal funds are being set aside to aid communities around the country in establishing emergency mental health response teams to stem potentially deadly police encounters. When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or drug-related emergency, the teams would work to de-escalating the situation and get the person help. 

According to a report by The Associated Press, the program will be funded partially through Medicaid and an estimated $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan spread out over the next decade to create the mobile response teams. 

Several cities have already piloted programs that deploy mental health professionals to respond to crises, with promising results and support from police officers. 

Eugene, Oregon Police Chief Chris Skinner told The AP, mobile mental health teams “[fit] nicely with what we are trying to do around police reform. Eugene has had mobile mental health response teams for over 30 years. 

“If I can rely on a mechanism that matches the right response to the need, it means I don’t have to put my officers in these circumstances,” Skinner said. “By sending the right resources I can make the assumption that there are going to be fewer times when officers are in situations that can turn violent. It actually de-conflicts, reducing the need for use of force,” he added. 

Out of the estimated 1,000 people who are killed by police each year, severe mental illness was a factor in at least 25 percent of them, according to an analysis by the Treatment Advocacy Center

The federal funding for mobile mental health response programs was championed by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon who serves as the chair of the Finance Committee, which oversees Medicaid. 

“Too often law enforcement is asked to respond to situations that they are not trained to handle,” Wyden said, noting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health and an increased trend in substance abuse. “On the streets in challenging times, too often the result is violence, even fatal violences, particularly for Black Americans.” 

The deaths of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, and Marvin Scott in Dallas, Texas are just two instances where mental health was a factor in deadly police encounters. 

With numerous police shootings of Black people and social justice advocates and communities pushing for redistribution of finances from police to resources like mental health help, some believe the mobile mental health teams could be an answer. 

“All of those things coming together are putting increased focus on the need for further developing effective behavioral health treatment models,” Kaiser Family Foundation Medicaid expert MaryBeth Musumeci told The AP. 

Photo: Getty Images

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