Tulare County Behavioral Health Focus Groups Suggest Mobile Response Units

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) — Tulare County is taking action to address mental health needs in the South Valley.

According to the Department of Behavioral Health, there were more than 5,600 calls for help and nearly 1,700 cases of psychiatric hospitalization last year.

As officials review last year’s numbers, they say the need for behavioral health services has never been more evident. The pandemic has highlighted the increased need for access to services and created new challenges.

“We just want to provide the community with the support to make sure we’re doing our best to keep people safe,” said clinic administrator Joe Hamilton.

He added that now is the time to reassess the county’s crisis system to meet the needs of the entire community.

Since March, focus groups have been meeting virtually to discuss which services are working and what needs improvement.

“They obviously would like a more heightened response in the community,” Hamilton said.

Following the focus group meetings, Hamilton said there was interest in more mobile responses in schools and homes — not just emergency rooms.

“It also allows law enforcement to focus on what they need to do, which is community safety and protection,” he said.

The focus group included current and former users of behavioral health services, family members, medical professionals, school officials, and law enforcement.

Going forward, the county will compile all focus group feedback to develop a plan to increase accessibility to its services.

“Maybe more short-term crisis stays, 11 p.m., where there can also be a walk-in center, and very inviting,” Hamilton said. “So people can feel comfortable coming in there and dealing with whatever crisis they may have.”

Hamilton explained that setting up new services could take some time, but wants to assure the community that they are setting up their crisis services.

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