Bostonians sought to improve the city’s response to mental health emergencies

Ten residents with real-life mental illness experience will represent the voices of community members in crafting a better mental health crisis response plan.

Boston officials are counting on community members to help create a better response to mental health crises in the city that relies less on police officers, and more on paramedics and behavioral health practitioners.

According to the city, 911 dispatchers received more than 10,000 mental-health calls in 2020, with the highest call volumes in Dorchester, Roxbury, and the South End.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey and the Office of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday announced the city was accepting applications for a community-led design group composed of 10 Boston residents to help craft a more efficient response system to mental health emergencies.

The design group will be comprised of people with professional and real-life experience with mental health issues. The goal is to lessen police response to mental health-related 911 calls and instead dispatch EMS and mental health professionals to the scene of such emergencies. 


The initiative is funded with $1.75 million from the HHS budget and came to fruition after several community listening sessions.

In a press release, Janey said her administration has made it a priority to bring safety, healing, and justice to the Boston community.

“That includes reimagining how we respond to mental health crises in our city,” said Janey. “This design group will help residents and their families get the right type of care they deserve, and I encourage everyone with an interest to apply.”

The goal, according to city officials, is to assemble a group of people from a variety of Boston neighborhoods, identities, and backgrounds to participate in the project. The group will meet from December 2021 to May 2022. Members are expected to actively participate in virtual or in-person meetings (which will follow COVID-19 precautions).

How to get involved

City officials encourage community members who are applying to reference their own lived experience and how it shapes their desire to join the design group. Translation services will be made available for residents who don’t speak English, and candidates can request their preferred language in the application. Residents can apply via an online form.

Applicants must apply by 5 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2021. The city is offering a $1,200 stipend to each member to assist with any related childcare and transportation costs. Applicants can submit their applications by mail or in person at City Hall (suite 806). 


“As we reimagine the city’s response to mental health crises in our neighborhoods, it’s critical that we make sure that the voices of community members are represented,” Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez said in a press release. “The Community-led Design Group is an important component in a multi-pronged approach that brings those voices to the table.” 

In addition to the community-led response to a mental health emergency, the city in August also announced two other models of dealing with crises: Co-response and alternative response. 


Co-Response will improve and expand dedicated teams of police officers and mental health workers to respond to 911 calls that report a mental health crisis with a safety risk. 

Currently, dispatch of co-response takes place on a case-by-case basis. The pilot initiative standardizes this process. Dispatchers will automatically ask if a co-response team is available to respond to mental health calls that pose a safety risk. This component of the pilot began in September.

In addition, co-response cars with a police officer and mental health worker can currently be asked to respond to any call type. The pilot will designate dedicated co-response cars, which will only be dispatched to calls that are likely to have a mental health concern. This component of the pilot began in October, in Boston Police Districts A1 and B2, in the Downtown/Charlestown and Roxbury neighborhoods.

Alternative response 

The alternative response will deploy teams of Emergency Medical Technicians and mental health workers to respond to 911 calls that report a mental health crisis without a safety risk. This work to develop this response is in partnership with unions representing BPD and EMS employees. 


For more information about the City’s Mental Health Crisis Response Pilots, please visit here.

About the Office of Health and Human Services

HHS is the largest cabinet in the city with 10 departments and offices that span work across multiple communities all striving to create a healthier Boston. Committed to promoting and ensuring the health and well-being of the city’s most vulnerable residents, HHS provides a wide array of critical programs and services all while advocating for systemic change to tackle root causes of some of the city’s most pressing challenges. HHS departments work with and for the populations with the greatest needs in the city, including veterans, youth, persons with disabilities, and aging residents. 

Jump To Comments


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com