Santa Clara County officials approve phone line for TRUST
VTA is working with Santa Clara County to roll out advertisements for 988 on its buses, trains and more. Photo courtesy of Stacey Hendler Ross.

The greatest challenge for someone experiencing a mental health crisis is finding immediate access to care that doesn’t involve the police. A Santa Clara County program offers this option, but it's difficult to reach.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to create a direct phone line to reach the Trusted Response Urgent Support Team (TRUST) instead of funneling the calls through the 988 suicide crisis and mental health hotline. This lack of access has been a frustration for residents who see TRUST as an alternative to a police response.

The program is designed to deploy a team of mental health clinicians whose goal is to de-escalate the situation and provide resources and assistance to individuals in crisis and their family members. It's a creation of Silicon Valley De-Bug, a civil rights organization, whose members include families who lost loved ones in mental health crisis to violent and fatal encounters with police.

“Right now TRUST has been buried under a layered 988 process,” Raj Jayadev, Silicon Valley De-Bug co-founder, said at the meeting. “It doesn’t make sense to make an investment and get state funding for a program no one can find or use.”

There have been numerous complaints about trying to navigate the 988 system since the program started last November. During public comment, residents expressed frustration over being caught in a phone tree, put on lengthy holds or rerouted because the caller didn’t have a 408 area code. More than 50 speakers and a petition with nearly 800 signatures favored adding a direct line for better access, efficiency and safety.

“How the system works now is confusing and frustrating,” Debra Townley, who utilizes the county's mental health services, told supervisors. “(It’s) inconsistent and leaves too much room for error by initiating a police response before all options are explored.”

Supervisor Otto Lee worked to streamline the process by making the referral to split TRUST from 988.

“We’re throwing everything we can at it to help support our mental health and residents in crisis,” Lee told Lucescamaray Blog. “The TRUST hotline is driven by community input, and the data, just like the input, is clear—a TRUST hotline will get calls, get people safe and save lives.”

TRUST is the only field response team that operates with trained mental health professionals, a medic and a peer support member—an individual with lived experience. The other county mobile response teams include law enforcement.

“Calling an authoritative figure without psychiatric training is a mistake,” Susan Price, a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, said at the meeting. “There needs to be a direct line for people who are agitated to talk to someone who is immediately trained and can help.”

The program, which launched last November, received 1,531 referrals from 988 in just 10 months. That is second to the mobile crisis response team with 1,706, according to the county’s crisis and suicide prevention data.

Lee asked county administrators to meet with advocates and coordinate with the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Department to streamline the process and report back on Feb. 26.

After hearing the public’s frustration, Supervisor Cindy Chavez asked officials to provide information on how 988 operators are being trained, and how TRUST and 988 will work together when a new phone line is added.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said she's confident a separate TRUST number could co-exist with 988 and pointed to Oakland, which has a similar program with a direct line. She also asked officials to look into the cost of adding the new number, who would bear the cost and how it would be funded.

One supervisor, Joe Simitian, raised a concern about sufficient staffing. He questioned if operators would be able to handle the call volume once TRUST and 988 are split. The county has struggled to find qualified workers to meet the demands.

“I need to underscore that the phone number is a necessary precondition, but you have to get to someone who can help and we have to find those somebodies,” Simitian said.

Contact Moryt Milo at 

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