Los Angeles 911 dispatchers heard from the “million dollar woman” daily, sometimes several times. She said she couldn’t breathe. Each time, says the Christian Science Monitor, emergency crews packed her into an ambulance, and she was released after no medical problem could be found. The ER visits cost the city more than $1 million a year, says Lt. Lionel Garcia of the L.A. Police Department's Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU). It wasn't until mental health clinicians got involved that the root causes of the problem became clear. The woman was lonely and experiencing delusions. Once she was connected with supportive services, the 911 calls ceased.
The unusual police partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health has become a nationally recognized model, the nation’s largest and most robust program. In 2010, it was designated a national training site, and officers from as far away as Australia have reached out to Garcia. By partnering beat cops with mental health clinicians, the MEU reined in costs associated with frivolous 911 calls. It connected thousands of people with counseling and support, reducing incidences of force used on the mentally ill and alleviating the burden on overcrowded emergency rooms and the criminal justice system. Diverting nonviolent offenders to mental health services is better for their recovery and saves tax money, says Fred Osher, director of health systems and services policy at the Council of State Governments.