St. Louis mental health diversion programs helped residents and saved the city $2.6M
Two programs that work to keep St. Louis residents experiencing mental health crises out of the judicial system appear to be saving the city money.
Both Cops and Clinicians and a 911 diversion program began operating full time in January 2021, although the city had previously run a small pilot of the first initiative, which sends social workers along with police officers to certain calls. The second diversion program routes certain 911 calls to a mental health crisis hotline run by Behavioral Health Response.
The 5,000 calls diverted are a fraction of what the city receives in a year. But a review donated by Mastercard found that the two programs combined may have saved the city $2.6 million in the first eight months of operation, mostly in personnel costs in the police department and EMS.
Mayor Tishaura Jones, a strong proponent of diversion programs, said the benefits to the city go beyond monetary savings.
“Someone experiencing a mental health crisis does not need to come in contact with the police, or get thrown in jail,” she said. "That doesn’t make our neighborhoods safer.”
Mastercard, which donated the data analysis using its Test and Learn tools, also found that most callers who were directed to the crisis hotline did not need to call 911 again. In addition, most were able to avoid hospitalization for mental health needs.
Randall Robertson, one of the social workers known colloquially as the “purple shirts,” said it was satisfying to be able to connect people struggling with mental illness to the help they need.
“Bringing your humanness to the job is going to enable you to deal with whatever you gotta deal with,” he said. “Because it’s one human interacting with another.”
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