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Santa Clara County unveils 9-8-8 call center, promises faster link to mental health services

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

On Tuesday, Santa Clara County unveiled its call center, which also links directly to a wide range of other county emergency services.

In a mental health emergency, every second can count. With the new consolidated 988 center, the gap between when the phone rings and when people are connected to services is about to be significantly reduced.

Santa Clara County is just one of two counties in California that operates its own 988 call center. There are 12 throughout the state, 10 of which are run by nonprofits or other groups. . Kern County also operates its own 988 call center.

When you dial 988 anywhere in Santa Clara County, you are not reaching a call center in a distant town with people who are unfamiliar with local resources. It is staffed 24/7 by trained local professionals to get you the help you need, and quickly.

“If you’re in crisis, you want to talk to someone, and you want to talk to someone now,” said Joe Tansek of Santa Clara County Behavioral Health, which provides suicide and crisis prevention staff at the center. of calls.

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

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

If someone calls 988 and is not having a mental health crisis, but is looking for local addiction resources, the 988 responder can immediately transfer that call to another expert in the same room. It is hoped that the seamless operation between areas of expertise will get help where it is needed and when it is needed.

“The national standard is 6 rings or 30 seconds,” said Bruce Copley. Copley, who oversees the 988 call center, is Santa Clara County’s director of access and unscheduled services for behavioral health.

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

Also located here is what is called a “navigation center” to help callers locate and connect with the county’s full range of services.

“This is a county initiative to provide the community again — the whole community — with information about community resources or issues they are having getting community resources,” Copley said.

In some cases, 988 calls can be transferred directly to county clinics where people can make appointments to get tested. While the county’s 988 system is now fully operational, not all players have yet moved into this same room, but they will over the next few weeks.