In parts of Dallas, Texas, 911 emergency calls don’t just involve the police. If the call relates to a mental health crisis, a mental health professional will respond with a team to help avoid violence, jail, or unnecessary hospitalization.
Called the RIGHT (Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team) Care program, 911 calls can be forwarded from the police to social workers and paramedics if seemingly mental health-related – a method that has proven to reduce unnecessary arrests and avoid overstressing hospitals.
“Mental healthcare is a medical need, not a law enforcement issue,” says B.J. Wagner, senior director of smart justice at Dallas’s Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which created the program launched in January 2018, inspired by a similar one in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “When a police officer is on scene, he’s trained to … make an arrest or take somebody to a hospital.”
This method meant that chronically ill people either misjudgingly end up in jail or in a hospital, instead of receiving the beneficial care provided by a trained mental health professional. The RIGHT Care team, involving a social care worker, a police officer and a paramedic, treats individuals as patients rather than potential criminals, seeing if all they need is to refill their prescription or pick up a meal – and even checks up on them again in the days that follow to make sure the situation has improved. The program will soon expand to the entire U.S. city of Dallas, with other cities such as Abilene, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma following suit with similar programs.