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Mobile Crisis Response Team expands to Palo Alto

Art by Rachel Lee

To help provide more support for county residents in crisis, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved in early February to expand its Mobile Crisis Response Team program to Santa Clara’s North County. 

The Board of Supervisors voted four against one in favor of the expansion to the North County, which includes Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and other regions under District 5. 

In the Mobile Crisis Response Team program, clinicians connect county residents experiencing a mental health emergency with medical or social services. 

District 5 County Supervisor Joe Simitian proposed the board referral that later got approved, to expand the Mobile Crisis Response Team program. 

Sandra Hernandez, the Behavioral Health Division Director at Santa Clara County said the location of the extended part of the Mobile Crisis Response Team has not been fully determined yet. 

“We want it to hopefully be in a location that’s going to be easy to better relate the Palo Alto to Cupertino area, somewhere in that general vicinity,” Hernandez said. 

Hernandez said they are currently working on hiring clinicians and that finding clinicians who are willing to do mobile crisis-related work is challenging. They have interviewed around five people so far and hope to fill in the vacant positions in some of the San Jose areas.

“Most clinicians would prefer Monday through Friday when finding a position, but this is not one of those positions,” Hernandez said. “You’re asking people to work unusual days and hours. We will respond at two in the morning if that’s what we need to do.” 

Hernandez said with the three additional clinicians, they will have 20 within the county. What they currently have established are three dedicated clinicians in the South County area. The remaining 14 clinicians cover the remainder of the county, with most of them lingering around the San Jose area since that area is where most of the mobile crisis activity occurs, according to Hernandez. 

“We have the staff in the south county and just looking at our staff there, their response times to people in that area are a lot quicker because (our staff ) are already there,” Hernandez said. 

People who are in crisis and are in need of services can call the response team or visit the nearest location they are set up at. The Santa Clara County press release said the expansion of the Mobile Crisis Response Team will allow people to be able to reach out for help more quickly with more access to medical and social services. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Mobile Crisis Response Team has received around 5,000 calls last year, which was 1,600 more calls than the previous year. 

“Not everyone who reaches out to us receives a lot of services, and sometimes they just may need to be reconnected to their previous provider, need to get back on their medication, need to make some choices about getting into rehab for drugs and alcohol, or needing respite time away from the family,” Hernandez said. 

Hernandez said the provided places where the Mobile Crisis Teams are can assist those in crisis by allowing them a place to cool off a bit, and then they can help assess and determine what this individual needs. She also said response times are really important because they want people to know that help is on the way, however certain barriers will contribute to delays in response times. 

“The challenge is that we have to send a clinician, maybe even from San Jose, so we’re dealing with traffic now. Commute lanes and all that,” Hernandez said. 

Hernandez said they have a back line where law enforcement can call and take initiative because it may be something that’s much more critical or something they can respond more quickly to. Simitian said in the press release that having behavioral health clinicians and other professionals available to help people in crisis not only provides a more complete and appropriate response, but it also allows law enforcement to focus on other community needs. 

The detailed plan to carry out the Mobile Crisis Response Team expansion will be discussed at the April 19 county board of supervisors meeting

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