Calgary

Mental health calls to 911 to be diverted to Distress Centre's 211 line under Calgary pilot project

Calgary police and the city’s 911 service are working with the Distress Centre to try to reduce the demand on the emergency call centre while improving the response to mental-health related calls.

Calgary 911 call takers will virtually co-locate with those answering phones at 211

Calgary 911 receives more than a million calls a year, which works out to more than 3,000 calls every day. Over the past decade, call volumes have grown 30 per cent. (CBC)

Calgary police and the city's 911 service are working with the Calgary Distress Centre to try to reduce the burden on the emergency call centre and improve the response to mental-health related calls. 

Over a trial period of five months, call takers for Calgary 911 will virtually co-locate with those who answer phones at 211 — the service offered by the Distress Centre that helps callers experiencing a mental health crisis or needing advice about domestic abuse or food and housing assistance. 

"This co-location pilot is an exciting demonstration of the strengthening and transformation of that partnership to better serve Calgarians," said Distress Centre CEO Robyn Romano in a release.

"When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, it can be an urgent and distressing situation but often does not require a 911 response. When someone contacts 211, they'll speak to a live person who can connect them with the right resources and services for their issue."

On a yearly basis, Calgary 911 receives more than one million calls — which works out to more than 3,000 calls every day. That represents a 30 per cent increase in call volumes over the past decade, said Calgary 911 acting commander, Glenda Sahlen.

"By co-locating the community-based crisis services provided by 211 into the Calgary 911 operations centre, the intent is to reduce the demand on 911 and improve the response to non-emergency mental health-related calls, resulting in better outcomes for Calgarians in crisis," Sahlen said.

Beginning Feb. 1, call takers will begin looking for opportunities to connect some 911 callers who have non-life-threatening and non-criminal concerns to the 211 line operated by the Distress Centre. 

Funding for the project comes from the $8-million Community Safety Investment Framework and the $8-million Calgary Police Service budget reallocation funds.

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