PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The city of Providence is moving forward with plans to dispatch social service workers to certain 911 calls, issuing a call Tuesday for organizations that can place clinicians within the public safety department.
The request for proposals (RFP) seeks a nonprofit that can provide one clinician to respond to calls alongside the Providence Fire Department, and another that will work in the city’s dispatch center, which answers 911 calls.
The first clinician would respond to emergency calls alongside Emergency Medical Technicians in the Providence Fire Department, utilizing the existing mobile health van launched in 2019. The social service worker would provide on-site help to the person experiencing a crisis, help with de-escalation and connect the person with treatment, according to the RFP.
The second clinician in the dispatch center would provide over-the-phone crisis counseling to people calling 911 with mental health, substance abuse or other issues. The person would also determine whether to dispatch the mobile health van or police, depending on whether there’s a risk of “threat of harm to others.”
Bids are due April 11.
The program is part of a pilot launched last year that seeks to divert certain calls away from the police, freeing them up to respond to violence and criminal activity, while also directing social services to people calling 911 for issues such as mental health crises and substance abuse.
Mental health calls to Providence police increased by 92% from 2018 to 2020, according to the department’s data.
Part of the goal of the diversion program is to decrease the reliance on calling 911 for these issues, by connecting people to the proper social service agency that can help them.
The new RFP was crafted using recommendations from a report commissioned last year from the Providence Center and Family Service of Rhode Island.
Mayor Jorge Elorza earmarked $600,000 for the pilot program in the budget for the current fiscal year, which passed the City Council last summer. The RFP says the nonprofit selected to provide the services would receive $105,000 through the end of this fiscal year — which ends June 30 — and another $320,000 next fiscal year, pending approval in the next budget.
“We’re committed to challenging the way things have always been done and to find new solutions that better meet our needs,” Elorza said in a news release. “After designing this program with feedback from key stakeholders, this request for proposals will allow us to provide more and better treatment to people experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis.”
The city is also adding two staffers in City Hall to run and evaluate the new program within the Healthy Communities Office: Silaphone Nhongvongsouthy was named as the behavior health program manager, and Rachel Ferrara will be the data and evaluation manager, according to Elorza’s office.
The mayor had also planned to add a new police major to the department to oversee diversion services, but his pick for the job — civilian Michael Stephens, the city’s recreation director — has been stalled for months amid a dispute between Elorza and City Council leaders over the job title and salary.