Calif. Bill Would Allow Paramedics to Transport Patients to Alternative Facilities

By: Los Angeles Times McClatchy /  EMSWORLD

Apr. 24—If a person is intoxicated or suffering from a mental health crisis, a crowded hospital emergency room may not be the right place to get treatment. Yet homeless people are often taken there when they may just need a place to sober up or be seen by a mental health professional.

That’s because paramedics don’t have the option to take homeless people—or anyone else, for that matter—to a sobering center or a behavioral health facility. Under state law, paramedics (unlike police or sheriff’s deputies in L.A. County) summoned through 911 calls are legally obligated to take an individual needing treatment to a hospital emergency room.

The state Legislature is now considering a bill to give paramedics the same authority that law enforcement officers have to direct individuals to the facility best suited to treat them. This is a smart way to take some pressure off of jammed emergency rooms, while also helping to connect homeless people who are struggling with alcohol addiction or mental illness with the social services they desperately need.

Assembly Bill 1795 by Assemblyman Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) would extend to paramedics who obtained more training in crisis intervention and the proper handling of intoxicated patients the authority to assess whether people would be better treated at designated sobering centers or behavioral health facilities, which would have to meet specific standards and be approved by the local Emergency Medical Service Authority. The measure is sponsored by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

The bill doesn’t force anything on anyone. Under the new law, if people prefer to go to an emergency room, they will be taken there. As under current law, people who refuse transport won’t be taken anywhere. Or if they agree to be transported but then decide to leave, they can. Nor does this bill empower paramedics to initiate an involuntary psychiatric hold at a facility.

This legislation is about giving first responders the power to make better choices on behalf of vulnerable people who need treatment and social services. There are currently five mental health urgent care centers and one sobering center in the county. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, most of those centers have available beds, say aides to L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who led the push for the bill. And, these centers, more than emergency rooms, are geared to caring for people who need to be connected to the supportive services that help homeless people battle addictions, cope with mental illness, and get shelter and housing. AB 1795 is a sensible bill that would provide one more route for getting homeless people to services.

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