February 27, 2024
  • Redwood City – Residents dealing with a mental or behavioral health crisis will soon be able to request a mobile response team with specialists in de-escalation who can connect individuals to appropriate services.

    The Board of Supervisors today voted 5-0 to award a nearly $5 million contract to Telecare Corp., which will work with the local nonprofit StarVista to operate the new response system. Callers to 650-573-0350 will be able to request help for a family member, friend or anyone (including themselves) experiencing or at risk of a mental or behavioral health crisis.

    The specialized teams will provide a countywide alternative to armed law enforcement response in a first for San Mateo County.

    “This alternative response model is another huge step in making sure community members get the appropriate, person-centered response when and where they need it. I’m thrilled to be a part of making this critical resource available to our community as our work in this space continues,” said Supervisor Noelia Corzo, who sponsored a study session on non-armed mobile mental health response in December 2023.

    Once calls are screened, the hotline will dispatch clinicians trained in crisis assessment, de-escalation and intervention. They will arrive in nondescript vehicles – no lights and sirens – around-the-clock, any day of the year with the goal of stabilizing situations and, if necessary, taking individuals or arranging transportation to the appropriate level of care.

    “This is a compassionate approach to assist individuals with mental or behavioral health issues who should be handled with care by trained clinicians,” said Supervisor David J. Canepa, who along with Corzo brought today’s Telecare contract to the Board for consideration.

    The response team will also be equipped to administer Narcan, a drug that can treat narcotic overdose in an emergency situation.

     “The county’s Behavioral Health Commission and the wider community have been calling for non-armed, round-the-clock, countywide crisis response to those who need urgent help related to mental health distress, homelessness, and substance misuse,”  Corzo said.

    Many County leaders, along with advocates for those with mental illness, have advocated for an approach to responding to those in a mental or behavioral health crisis without law enforcement’s involvement. This is seen as a way to deescalate situations and free up public safety personnel for other duties.

    Nationally, as many as 15 percent of calls to 911 are for behavioral health emergencies, according to a 2021 study in the journal Psychiatric Services.

    “This is 24/7 unarmed response meant to keep individuals in crisis who are not a danger to themselves or others out of our emergency rooms and jails,” Canepa said. “I see this as the first step in really ramping up and elevating unarmed mobile crisis response throughout the county for generations to come.”

    Dr. Jei Africa, director of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services which will manage the Telecare contract, said this team approach will have “significant impact” for those who need care.

    “We will be able to provide additional mobile response services to those in need like never before, meeting folks where they are at — their homes, places of work or on the street. It will also mean less burden on our other County response systems, meaning less emergency department visits and unnecessary law enforcement involvement,” Africa said.

    The service will partially begin in May with one team during evening weekday hours before fully ramping up by August to five 24/7 teams and two on-call teams. It will be for people who do not need immediate hospitalization.

    The County along with Telecare and StarVista will develop an outreach campaign to promote awareness of the hotline number and the service.

    Response times within 60 minutes are expected in central county areas and 90 minutes in coastside regions.

    Media Contact

    Audrey Davis
    Communications Specialist