Tacoma 911 center adding counselors to handle behavioral health calls

As the largest 911 call center in Washington, serving 38 police and fire agencies in Pierce County, South Sound 911 has seen a growing number of the nearly one million calls they receive annually involve someone who suffering from a mental or behavioral health crisis.

In an effort to better support these callers, the 911 emergency center has launched a first-of-its-kind model that will bring counselors from the states’ 988 mental health hotline to work alongside dispatchers in from its Tacoma headquarters. The collaboration aims to make it easier and faster for dispatchers to divert behavioral health calls away from first responders and toward mental health professionals.

The new program, launched in June, is one of three that have been created in the state through a year-long pilot program known as the Mental Health Crisis Call Diversion Initiative. The effort is a partnership between the Washington Department of Health and the three providers that oversee the states’ 988 mental health hotlines.

Volunteers of America, the designated 998 provider for phone lines throughout Western Washington outside of King County, has partnered with South Sound 911 to manage the co-location facility in Tacoma. The scheme launched this summer with just one counsellor, but at full strength it will have six plus a co-ordinator to handle 988 calls. The association currently operates during peak hours from 2pm to 12am, but will be open 24/7 once fully staffed.

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