Santa Clara County Unveils 988 Call Center, Promises Faster Connection to Mental Health Services

The first county-run center in Northern California to handle calls from the new national “988,” a number for anyone experiencing mental health issues, is now up and running.

On Tuesday, Santa Clara County unveiled its call center, which is also directly connected to a wide variety of other emergency services in the county.

In a mental health emergency, every second counts. With the new, consolidated 988 center, the target from the moment the phone rings to the moment people are connected to services will be greatly reduced.

Santa Clara County is only one of two counties in California to have its own 988 call center. There are a total of 12 statewide, 10 of which are run by nonprofits or other groups. Kern County also has its own 988 call center.

If you call 988 anywhere in Santa Clara County, you won’t reach a call center in a distant city with people unfamiliar with local resources. It is staffed 24/7 with trained local professionals to assist you quickly and efficiently.

“When you’re in a crisis, you want to talk to someone, and you want to talk to someone now,” said Joe Tansek of Santa Clara County Behavioral Health, who supplies the suicide and crisis prevention staff to the call center.

“The 988 group will not only provide suicide prevention and crisis hotline services, but they will also connect to our mobile crisis response team which they will connect to our continuum of community response agencies,” Tansek said.

Last year, the county’s crisis response number received more than 50,000 calls. With the simplicity of 988, the call volume is expected to increase.

If someone calls 988 and doesn’t have a mental health crisis, but is looking for local substance abuse resources, the 988 responder can immediately turn that call over to another expert in the same room. It is hoped that the seamless collaboration between areas of expertise will get the help where it is needed and when it is needed.

“The national standard is 6 rings or 30 seconds,” says Bruce Copley. Copley, who oversees the 988 call center, is the director of Access and Unplanned Services for behavioral health in Santa Clara County.

There are 10 full-time employees and 75 trained volunteers who will help staff the 988 system. Calltakers speak multiple languages ​​and can engage a translation service for others.

Also located here is a so-called “navigation center” to help callers locate and connect to the full range of provincial services.

“That’s a county initiative to re-educate the community — the entire community — about community resources or problems they have in getting community resources,” Copley said.

In some cases, calls to 988 may be routed directly to county clinics where people can make appointments to be screened. While the county’s 988 system is now fully operational, all players have yet to move into the same room, which will be done in the coming weeks.

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