Delfina Rojo never imagined going through the recovery phase of mental health care.
But after gaining years of experience with Kern Behavioral Health & Recovery Services and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from CSUB, Rojo now holds an inaugural Bakersfield position as a recovery specialist tasked with making 911 calls that meet certain criteria. Provides mental health services to the call center at the Bakersfield Police Department.
“Mental health personnel will be looking for different things in law enforcement because of our training,” Rojo said. “It’s more about connecting with the individual and directing them toward what will be most beneficial to their mental health.”
Fernanda Ramirez, the temporary supervisor of Rojo’s unit, said nearly 76 percent of calls answered by Rojo since it began in August 2021 have been backed by a mental health response rather than a police officer.
That success prompted plans to expand the program, said city councilman Eric Arias.
The city council is seeking to add three more missionaries with similar responsibilities, according to the proposed city budget. The total cost of the program is $400,757, according to a plan expected to be discussed during the board meeting on June 15.
“The hope is that with these three additional individuals out there, we will provide 24/7 … opportunities for any individual facing these kinds of mental health crises,” Arias said.
How it works
“I can’t stand this anymore. Nobody cares about me.”
Rojo said she heard this refrain while answering calls. This statement, along with the caller saying they swallowed an entire bottle of pills, prompts her to send the police.
But other, less extreme situations allow Rojo the ability to listen. Rogow said some calls may last up to 30 minutes and end with referrals to various mental health services or the deployment of a mobile assessment team.
Ramirez said the mobile teams, which are made up of Kern BBRS employees, respond with officers to cases where non-police services are needed.
She said some people simply need to vent themselves. 911 dispatchers usually answer a call and transfer the person to Rojo if the caller is speaking quickly and not listening for instructions.
Rojo said she tries to answer a few questions when answering a call for the first time: What is the mood of the caller? How do they listen to questions? What happened before they called 911?
Ramirez, her interim supervisor, said Rojo has a calm voice.
“It’s a natural gift,” Ramirez said.
The supervisor noticed calls beginning with heightened anxiety and slurred speech. Ramirez said that Rojo then uses grounding techniques and the conversation ends by thanking the caller calmly Rojo. No need to send a mobile assessment team, or police that might aggravate the situation.
Ramirez added that Rojo, using her connection at Kern BBRS, can provide teams with knowledge about a repeat caller and send potential assistance.
“It’s such an honor to be a part of so many people’s lives,” said Rojo, a Highland High School graduate and lifelong Bakersfield resident.
‘caregiver’ rather than ‘enforcement’
Arias said city officials have sought to reimagine their approach to various emergencies in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests. They created a mental health dispatcher pilot program in collaboration with BPD and Kern bhRS to measure its outcomes last year.
Robert Beer, a spokesperson for the Department of Mental Health, said he welcomed the addition of individuals mandated to provide mental health assistance.
Bourne said mental health experts provide the “caregiver” response rather than “enforcement,” citing the example of a resident who called a 911 dispatcher multiple times a day worried about someone eavesdropping and controlling their minds.
He added that sending a police officer on each occasion to ensure his safety is a potential solution, but linking that resident to a mental health service could lead to “alternative strategies”.
Beers said that officers’ response to such situations has decreased more frequently, allowing police resources to tackle criminal activity instead.
“Having someone connected to the system (like Rojo) is very important, not only for the safety of that individual, but also for the safety of our community in general,” Bayer said.
You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her @_ishanidesai on Twitter.