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Survey: 911 dispatchers lack resources to handle behavioral health crises

A Pew Trusts survey revealed limited training and options for dispatching specialized responses


By Leila Merrill

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Most 911 call centers do not have operators with behavioral health crisis training and have limited options for dispatching specialized responses, according to a recently published Pew Charitable Trusts survey.

Despite experts’ recommendations that telecommunicators receive specialized training, most call centers that responded to the Pew survey said their employees do not receive behavioral health crisis training. Some, though, have started to hire clinicians who dispatchers can consult.

Most of the call centers had crisis intervention-trained law enforcement officers available to send out to at least some calls, but fewer than half said their areas have mobile crisis response teams. Those include police officers, clinicians, social workers and other field responders.

An overview of the study also found that, “the lack of consistent coding and data sharing suggests many administrators and policymakers do not have the information necessary to understand the scope of behavioral health crises in their communities, how they are being addressed, potential disparities based on race or location, and where opportunities might exist for improvements and needed investment. It also highlights the difficulty in painting a national picture of the scope of emergency calls related to mental health and substance use.”

More than 230 call centers received the Pew Charitable Trusts questionnaire, and 37 agencies in 27 states responded.

Read the full report below: