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Louisville’s 911 call diversion program goes county-wide

Amina Elahi
MetroSafe call-takers are now screening calls from across Jefferson County to determine if mental health crisis services are warranted.

Louisville Metro is expanding its Crisis Call Diversion Program, which allows a team of social workers to respond to some 911 calls from people experiencing a mental health crisis.

City officials announced Tuesday the program is now operating in every police division across Jefferson County. Louisville began piloting the program a year ago, focusing on calls coming from neighborhoods in the 4th police division like Beechmont, Germantown and Old Louisville.

Mayor Craig Greenberg said the city recognizes some emergency calls don’t need a police response.

“What some individuals need is not a police officer,” he said at a press conference. “They need a social worker. They need a trained mental health professional who can help with problem solving, de-escalation and possibly make referrals to appropriate community services.”

Greenberg said funding for the expansion will come from MetroSafe’s existing budget. He said he’ll ask Metro Council to provide additional funding for the Crisis Call Diversion Program when he presents his proposed budget next month for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Since the program began, more than 600 people have received crisis support and referrals, according to a press release from the city. That’s also allowed police officers to spend more than 345 hours focusing on other public safety work.

When someone calls 911 from anywhere in Jefferson County, MetroSafe call-takers will evaluate the caller's needs through a series of automated options. If the caller is having a mental health crisis, they’ll likely be transferred to a crisis triage worker in MetroSafe’s Behavioral Health Hub. The Hub operates like a traditional crisis hotline, trying to de-escalate the situation and create a safety plan.

Louisville Metro, in partnership with Kentucky nonprofit Seven Counties Services, is also operating a mobile crisis unit for responding with face-to-face help, if it’s warranted. In addition to de-escalation, trained social workers with the crisis unit can connect residents with resources and provide rides to shelters or community respite centers.

Jean Romano, a vice president of Seven Counties, provided an example of how this type of response can be more effective than a typical 911 response.

Early on in the program, a man had called to report gunshots, but police had already been out to the scene, Romano said. In reality, she said, the man was having a post-traumatic stress disorder response.

“Deflection was able to get involved, talk about resources with him and get him connected to a family member who was a safe place for him to stay,” Romano said. “The police weren’t needed. He didn’t have to go to the hospital. He was able to use his natural supports and we were able to help get him an appointment a little bit sooner with the VA.”

Louisville’s Crisis Call Diversion Program currently operates between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m., seven days a week. City officials say the goal is to make the program 24/7, but that will not only require more funding, it’ll require more people.

“Across Louisville, and even the commonwealth, we are dealing with a shortage of health care workers,” Romano said. “So support for mental health workers across the commonwealth is going to help this and future programs succeed.”

Expanding the work of the mobile crisis team was one of 36 remedial recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice following its report on discriminatory policing and civil rights violations by LMPD. The DOJ also recommended Louisville improve coordination between 911 call-takers and crisis hotline workers.

Researchers at the University of Louisville’s Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky are providing an ongoing analysis of the city’s 911 deflection program. They plan to have an evaluation report out later this year.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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