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 behavioral health department, there were more than 5,600 calls for help and almost 1,700 psychiatric hospitalization cases last year.

As officials look at the numbers from last year, they say the need for behavioral health services has never been more apparent. The pandemic highlighted the increased need for access to services and created new challenges.

"We want to just provide that support to the community that's necessary to make sure we do our best to keep people safe," said Joe Hamilton, clinic administrator.

He added that now is the time to re-evaluate the county's crisis system to address the whole community's needs.

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

"They would obviously like more increased response out into the community," said Hamilton.

Following the focus group meetings, Hamilton said there's an interest in more mobile responses to schools and homes -- not just emergency rooms.

"That also helps keep the law enforcement being able to focus on what they need to do, which is the safety and protecting the community," he said.

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

Moving forward, the county will compile all the feedback from the focus groups to come up with a plan to increase accessibility to its services.

"Maybe some more short-term, 23-hour crisis stays where there can also be a walk-in center, and very inviting," Hamilton said. "So people can feel comfortable with coming in there and just dealing with whatever crisis they may be having."

Hamilton explained it might take a while to get new services up and running but wants to assure the community they are building up their crisis services.

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