Sonoma County is bolstering its mobile behavioral crisis response teams ahead of a deadline at the end of the year set by the state.
The county board of supervisors at its regular meeting Tuesday approved $1.5 million to be divided by teams in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati and unincorporated areas of the county.
Mobile support teams respond to mental and behavioral health emergencies, redirecting such calls away from law enforcement as an only option.
The city of Santa Rosa program is called inRESPONSE, while the teams serving other areas are called Specialized Access for Everyone, known by the acronym SAFE. The SAFE teams, mostly funded by their respective cities, also respond to calls at Sonoma State University.
The goal is for the teams to ultimately include a licensed clinician, an EMT or paramedic, and an outreach worker from a partnering non-profit organization. Currently the SAFE team utilizes a non-licensed clinician, which means they still need law enforcement to issue a non-voluntary hold for someone experiencing a crisis, known as a "5150 hold" because of the section of state law that authorizes such detentions.
The law, part of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, allows law enforcement or certain licensed health professionals to hold someone for up to 72 hours if they are believed to be a threat to themselves or others.
Supervisors are exploring ways to expand the teams countywide after California lawmakers gave counties a Dec. 31 deadline to make such mobile crisis response teams available to all recipients of Medi-Cal. Tina Rivera, the county's Department of Health Services director, was directed to report back at a later date with a funding plan for countywide coverage.
Funding for the move comes from Measure O, a quarter-cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2020 to target mental health, addiction and homeless services initiatives.
"When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, they need a specialist who understands the situation," board chair Chris Coursey said. "A dedicated team of behavioral health first responders is vital in these situations, and we are proud to support these services."
The Santa Rosa inRESPONSE team received 2,700 calls for service in 2022, with 65 percent of those for mental health crises. The Santa Rosa Police Department saw a 16 percent decline in such calls during that period, according to the county.
The Petaluma SAFE team responds to over 300 calls per month.