Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's deputy web editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
When people suffering from mental illness can't reach a doctor or counselor, they often are instructed to dial 911 and speak with dispatchers who may not be qualified to help them. In Multnomah County, Ore., those callers will soon be transferred to the county's mental health call center to speak with people who have Master's degrees and experience working with this group of people, according to the Oregonian. The county decided to make the change after some police responses to mental health-related calls resulted tragically -- in wrongful incarceration or unnecessary harm. Before transferring calls to mental-health professionals, the 911 dispatchers make sure callers aren't posing a threat to themselves or others. Then, with the help of a health-records database, the professionals try to address the caller's concerns while figuring out the best way to help them based on their case history. The new system should also free up dispatch and police officers' time to respond to more imminent dangers.