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New funding for the federal Medicaid program could lead to an alternative for some people instead of calling the police. According to the Associated Press, a provision in the recent COVID-19 relief bill set aside $1 billion over 10 years, encouraging states to establish mobile crisis units.

Titled “State Option To Provide Qualifying Community-based Mobile Crisis Intervention Services,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden introduced the provision last August. The CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon, served as a model for the legislation.

Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the Medicaid program, Wyden would like to see his legislation become a permanent part of Medicaid. The legislation will provide $15 million for states through planning grants to help with implementation. 

Wyden’s office told Eugene Weekly the provision is “a down payment on the crisis intervention model that will let states begin setting up CAHOOTS-like programs.” The proposal set forth basic guidelines for the crisis teams, including required training in trauma-informed care, de-escalation, and harm reduction. A nurse or EMT, a social worker, and a crisis counselor make up a crisis response team. 

“[Wyden] is committed to making the state option permanent so states can reliably budget for these critical services,” said Wyden’s office. 

An estimated 25% of the people killed by police involved severe mental health issues. Operating for over 30 years, Eugene’s CAHOOTS program responded to 24,000 calls in 2019. 

While CAHOOTS has been integrated into the local 911 emergency system, it is not a part of Eugene’s police department. But crisis teams coordinate with the local police. 

Cities like Denver and Portland have implemented similar response teams. Omaha is also exploring a mental health crisis response model instead of having police respond to calls about distressed individuals. 

Having a crisis team like the one in Eugene could have saved the life of Marvin Scott. Marvin was arrested last month by law enforcement in Allen, Texas, and later died in custody at the Collin County Detention Facility. 

Noticeably distressed and possibly having a mental health crisis at the time of his arrest, responding officers should have taken Marvin to a mental hospital. The Dallas Observer reported Marvin was brutalized by officers when he became agitated. 

Many see changing the type of response dispatched to handle a distressed person as a necessary shift in policing. 

“Too often, law enforcement is asked to respond to situations that they are not trained to handle,” Wyden said to the Associated Press. “On the streets in challenging times, too often the result is violence, even fatal violence, particularly for Black Americans.”


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