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El Paso City Council unanimously passes two programs to aid mental health crises


EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- El Paso City council negotiated an agreement with Emergence Health Network for a crisis intervention team and agreed to find ways to better respond to mental health emergency calls.

An initial 6-million-dollar grant was awarded to Emergence Health Network in 2018 to start up a crisis intervention team. That original agreement between the city of El Paso and E.H.N. expired on November 30.

The 2018 crisis intervention team was established to provide a safer, more effective, specialized response to incidents involving mental health crises. This paired the police department with a mental health professional from E.H.N. when responding to mental health calls.

Today E.H.N. proposed a new contract for $1.7 million. This will cover the salaries for the 17 positions and increase staffing to 22. It will also add holiday pay and overtime pay.

Council members agreed with the program's necessity.

"I really think that when we talk about public safety the safety of the first responders is also critical and the crisis intervention team can keep everybody in a safer position. I've said for a long time that sometimes our criminal justice system has become our mental health system. This is not only in my opinion required if at all possible can be expanded bigger and better on this one and I think it keeps everybody in the city of El Paso safer," said Brian Kennedy, District 1 representative.

The City council voted to approve the new contract unanimously, along with a unanimous vote for a mechanism for diverting mental health crises from the 911 system to Emergence Health Network.

The goal is to have mental health experts handle the calls instead of the police.

Emergence already has an agreement with the El Paso county 911 district to operate a 988 hotline and a local mental health crisis/911 diversion service.

The 911 call diversion program for the city will divert mental health crisis calls to a specially trained team of 6 mental health clinicians per shift, staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week. This will free up critical emergency resources.

The program will come at no cost to the city.

Scott Calderwood, with the county's 911 district, shared his experience with the program.

"This is a fabulous opportunity to be innovative and come up with a way to better meet the caller's needs with a resource that's more appropriate for them and so it's another way for us to kind of re-imagine how 911 is gonna look in the future and this is a huge accomplishment it's a big win-win for everybody," said Scott Calderwood, County's 911 district.

Article Topic Follows: Be Mindful
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Sarah Coria

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