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New mental health dispatch unit launching in Orleans Parish

The MCIU will essentially act as the 4th branch of the emergency services dispatch service alongside fire and rescue, police, and EMS.

In the city of New Orleans, oftentimes, when a person is experiencing a mental health episode, the people who are sent to respond are normally police officers, but that will change soon. 

Next week the Orleans Parish Communication District will officially launch the Mobile Crisis Intervention Unit. The MCIU will essentially act as the 4th branch of the emergency services dispatch service alongside fire and rescue, police, and EMS.

However, the MCIU will only be dispatched to help those who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

"In this case, it's a licensed mental health care professional providing that support," said Tyrell Morris, the Executive Director for OPCD.

This all stems from a resolution that passed last year, authored by New Orleans Council Vice President Helena Moreno, that pushed for a crisis intervention task force. Through a partnership with the non-profit Resources For Human Development, the city's health department, and OPCD, it is now a reality. The mobile crisis intervention unit will divert non-violent 911 mental health crisis calls away from police and other responders. Instead, call takers will dispatch a licensed mental health care professional and a certified crisis intervention.

Morris said, "Our call takers will still triage those individuals to make sure they don't have weapons, and they're not violent and ensure they are not a physical or a danger to the responders, where law enforcement would be appropriate. We soft-launched the program on June 1st, and today so far, they've taken almost 50 calls."

Fifty calls average out to around eight mental health calls a day, that's just over 2900 calls a year, which is on par with what OPCD usually sees when it comes to mental health-related calls.

According to the New Orleans Health Department, the teams are made up of at least one mental health care licensed professional and one certified crisis intervention team member. The MCIU will run two teams, one for the day shift and one for the evening shift. One unit will be on standby to respond overnight. Morris said this has worked in large cities like Seattle, Washington, so he has high hopes. 

Another goal of the program is to remove some of the burden off of NOPD officers who are already stretched then.

"It's really important because now the burden is reduced for police officers so they can focus on responding to violent crime and responding to our most violent offenders. The issue around response times is resource availability, right. This makes officers able to respond to violent crime so we should see a reduction in response times," said Morris. "Of course, police officers and other public safety officials can handle individuals that are in crisis, but the quality of the care you get from a licensed clinician far exceeds anything any other public entity can provide."

The new unit will officially launch on June 15th.

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