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Advancing Emergency Medical Services' (EMS) Response Capability for Behavioral Health Emergencies: Los Angeles County's Performance Improvement Initiative.

INTRODUCTION: Behavioral health emergencies (BHEs) are a common patient encounter for emergency medical services (EMS) clinicians and other first responders, in particular law enforcement (LE) officers. It is critical for EMS clinicians to have management strategies for BHEs, yet relatively little information exists on best practices. In 2016, the Los Angeles County EMS Agency's Commission initiated a comprehensive evaluation of the 9-1-1 response for BHEs and developed a plan for improving the quality of care and safety for patients and first responders.

METHODS: A Behavioral Health Initiative Committee was assembled with broad representation from EMS, LE, health agencies, and the public. Committee objectives included: 1) produce a process map of the BHE response from the time of a 9-1-1 call to patient arrival at transport destination, 2) identify and describe the different agencies that respond, 3) describe the critical decision points in the EMS and LE field responses, 4) acquire data that quantitatively and/or qualitatively describe the services available, and 5) recommend interventions for system performance improvement.

RESULTS: The committee generated comprehensive process maps for the prehospital response to BHEs, articulated principles for evaluation, and described key observations of the current system including: 9-1-1 dispatch criteria are variable and often defaults to a LE response, the LE response inadvertently criminalizes BHEs, EMS field treatment protocols for BHEs (and especially agitated patients) are limited, substance use disorder treatment lacks integration, destination options differ by transporting agency, and receiving facilities' capabilities to address BHEs are variable. Recommendations for performance improvement interventions and initial implementation steps included: standardize dispatch protocols, shift away from a LE primary response, augment EMS treatment protocols for BHEs and the management of agitation, develop alternate destination for EMS transport.

CONCLUSION: This paper describes a comprehensive performance improvement initiative in LAC-EMSA's 9-1-1 response to BHEs. The initiative included a thorough current state analysis, followed by future state mapping and the implementation of interventions to reduce LE as the primary responder when an EMS response is often warranted, and to improve EMS protocols and access to resources for BHEs.

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