Just as paramedics respond to physical health emergencies, the U.S. Department of Justice says that behavioral health professionals — not police — should respond to mental health crises to avoid disability discrimination.

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that public entities make reasonable accommodations to ensure that people with disabilities can benefit from programs, services and activities and that includes emergency response, the Justice Department said in a statement of interest filed recently in a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia known as Bread for the City v. District of Columbia.

Accordingly, the statement indicates that public entities should tailor their emergency response to avoid discrimination based on disability. That may mean sending mobile crisis teams staffed with behavioral health professionals as opposed to police on mental health calls.

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“Sending mobile crisis response teams to mental health emergencies when appropriate is akin to sending EMTs to a reported heart attack,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Relying on a less effective, potentially harmful response to people experiencing mental health emergencies may deprive people with mental health disabilities of an equal opportunity to benefit from a critical public service.”

In the case at hand, Bread for the City, a nonprofit that provides physical and behavioral health care, legal services, food, clothing and social services to under-resourced residents of Washington, D.C., argues that it’s depleting its resources by spending significant time and energy de-escalating mental health crises in order to avoid calling 911.

“Bread has learned from experience that calling 911 for a client in a mental health crisis is not an adequate solution to a mental health crisis because it puts that client at risk of harm and reduces the trust that the client — and other clients who witness the incident — have in Bread,” the group said in its complaint. “If calling 911 resulted in mental health professionals responding promptly to a mental health crisis, Bread would be able to reroute significant resources back to its core programs.”

The Justice Department cited guidance it released last year along with the Department of Health and Human Services addressing emergency response for people with behavioral health and other disabilities. In addition, the department said that it recently completed investigations in Minneapolis and Louisville, Ky. that found discrimination against people with behavioral health disabilities in emergency response systems.

A separate brief arguing that Washington, D.C. needs to expand its mental health crisis services has also been filed in the case by the Bazelon Center for the Mental Health Law, the American Association of People with Disabilities and eight other groups.

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