Some 911 calls for mental health emergencies in Chicago will soon be answered by mental health professionals paired with paramedics rather than by police.

In one pilot program starting this fall, a paramedic will be dispatched with a mental health clinician for “behavioral health calls.” In another, a paramedic will work with a “recovery specialist” on calls involving substance abuse.

Mental health clinicians will be on hand at the 911 center to monitor situations, but questions remain how well these new responders will be able to de-escalate violence that can erupt during such calls, the Sun-Times reports.

“We’re super excited,” said Alex Heaton, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s policy adviser for public safety. “This is a brand new workforce for the city, and it’s an exciting opportunity to use a public health approach for people likely to come in contact with the first responder system.”

Before the pilots begin, however, the city will staff two ambulances each with a police officer trained in crisis intervention, a paramedic and a mental health clinician.

 

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