Collaborative approach to responding to behavioral health emergencies

Crisis Education
April, 9 2021 Margaret E. Balfour, M.D., Ph.D

Abstract: How a community responds to Behavioral Health (BH)emergencies is both a public health issue and social justice issue. Individuals in BH crisis often receive inadequate care in emergency departments (EDs), boarding for hours or days waiting for treatment. These individuals account for a quarter of police shootings and over 2 million jail bookings per year. Explicit and implicit bias magnify these problems for people of color. Growing bipartisan support for reform provides an unprecedented opportunity for meaningful change, but solutions to this complex issue will require comprehensive systemic approaches. As communities grapple with BH emergencies, the question isn’t whether law enforcement (LE)should respond to BH emergencies, but rather when, how, and with what support. This policy paper reviews best practices for law enforcement(LE) crisis response, outlines the components of a comprehensive continuum of crisis care that provides alternatives to LE involvement and ED utilization, and provides strategies for collaboration and alignment towards common goals. Finally, policy considerations regarding legal statutes, financing, data management, and stakeholder engagement are presented in order to assist communities interested in taking steps to build these needed solutions.


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