AUSTIN, Texas - The City of Austin is planning to have crisis counselors available 24/7 in the coming year.
Since last December, Austin police have been expanding the types of calls they are sending counselors to, instead of officers.
Austin police said they were able to divert more than 900 calls to counselors with Integral Care in the last ten months. However, that's only about 1 out of every 40 mental health calls dispatchers received.
Since moving into the 9-1-1 call center ten months ago, Integral Care's Expanded Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, or EMCOT, has helped more quickly de-escalate situations and provide resources to those struggling with a mental health crisis.
“What we’ve added now is a clinical care clinician where they will actually join in the call when appropriate and be able to start asking questions,” said ATCEMS Assistant Chief Andy Hofmeister.
In Monday’s Public Safety Commission meeting, Integral Care, Austin police and EMS explained how the program has been operating over the last year.
Currently, EMCOT does not respond to calls involving violence, weapons, crimes, severe intoxication, or imminent risk to the person in crisis or others. Police also handle any 9-1-1 calls where the caller requests an officer.
“So, appropriate calls for transfers to the clinicians included individuals with a non-emergency mental health crisis where there was no evidence of active violence, either to themselves or to anyone else,, disturbances or disputes, specifically related to a mental health crisis, mental health crisis involving youth and also parental issues,” said Lt. Ken Murphy with the Austin Police Department.
However, even when police must respond without EMCOT, counselors can help in other ways.
“If officers have to go to the scene and we cannot transfer the call to the counselor... We can conference in with the counselor and the counselor can speak to the caller if it’s a first-person caller to help with de-escalation techniques,” Murphy said.
Currently, crisis counselors are available from 8 am- 12a Monday through Friday and 10 am- 8 pm on weekends, but their availability is about to increase.
“It will be occurring this fiscal year. We’re currently in the process of hiring, interviewing, and onboarding applicants to get them trained up for that 24/7 availability,” said Marisa Aguilar, Integral Care practice manager.
EMCOT is funded by both the City of Austin and Travis County. They respond with and train law enforcement officers, as well as EMS and school resource officers.