Mental health patients on ambulances getting faster care in Fresno County


When a medical emergency strikes, ambulances are relied on to get you where you need to be. Especially in Fresno County, where EMS services have been making a point to take mental health patients directly to crisis centers to get the care they need faster.

Usually, when a mental health patient is picked up by ambulance, they would be taken to the hospital. While it’s the best place for other medical emergencies, like a broken leg, it’s not the best for those having a mental crisis.

The number of mental health patients being taken to the hospital via ambulance has been increasing since 2013. So much so, when you compare the number of rides from 2013 to 2017, it’s increased more than 108-percent, according to public health data.

“What results from that is longer delays of ambulances getting released from the emergency department because there’s no beds in the emergency department,” said Dan Lynch, emergency services division manager for the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

Since mental health needs can’t be addressed at the hospital, the patients need to be taken to a crisis center. Lynch said that further strains the system, especially when it’s out of the area, like Ventura County or San Joaquin County.

“We’re sending these people all over the state,” he said.

It’s why Lynch worked closely with the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health to get crisis centers added as an ambulance destination.

The centers have since become a top destination for mental health patients. In 2016 and 2017, more than 40-percent of mental health patients were taken to these centers. That’s nearly 400 patients a month on average, according to public health data.

Lynch said taxpayers are saving in the end, but the real benefit of course is to the patients.

“Getting someone to the most appropriate place initially is key for getting them to recovery sooner,” said Chris Roup, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Fresno chapter. NAMI is a mental health advocacy organization.

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