Be Well OC is officially up and rolling in Westminster. The nonprofit’s signature blue van has begun patrolling city streets to provide aid and care for individuals experiencing mental health or substance use challenges.
Westminster is the sixth city in Orange County to contract with the nonprofit organization that, among its programs, provides mobile response to non-violent, non-criminal situations involving people suffering mental health or substance use emergencies. Under the guidance of law enforcement, Be Well is part of the city’s first responder network, assigned by dispatch to handle suitable calls.
Be Well OC CEO Marshall Moncrief spoke to the Westminster City Council about how BeWell OC supplies a “compassionate, clinically informed way to treat the community.” Able to react quickly and efficiently, Be Well OC team members are trained in de-escalation, crisis intervention, counseling, and mediation. They are also able to provide transport to appropriate facilities and provide referrals and information on a wide array of health and social service programs.
Each month, Moncrief said, police departments respond to thousands of calls for mental health, homeless or substance use concerns. Most times these calls do not involve crime or public safety.
However, police “end up doing social service work instead of being available for policing,” Moncrief said. “It’s a tremendous burden on law enforcement, EMS and a community that might not be afforded services that might get them into care.”
Westminster Chief of Police Darin Lenyi said in some cases officers spend hours on these calls and are unavailable when serious crime is occurring.
Under a two-year pilot program, the cost of the program will be primarily paid for by federal American Rescue Plan Act funds through Dec. 31, 2025.
Launched in August 2021 in Huntington Beach, Be Well OC’s mobile response program has yielded impressive results.
According to data from the five existing pilot programs in Orange County:
- 88 percent of calls did not require transport for additional care
- 78 percent were handled without response by another agency
- Average response time was about 12 minutes
- Average time on the scene 38 minutes
- Law enforcement reported Be Well OC has saved them 1,200 hours collectively
The Westminster Police Department and Be Well OC will work in partnership, with a dedicated Be Well OC van and a trained two-person staff seven days a week and 12 hours a day.
Getting under way
Since early June, dispatchers at the Westminster Police Department have been training on the kinds of calls to which Be Well OC can respond.
As Moncrief describes it, dispatchers typically have three resources to respond to calls, police, fire and ambulance.
“We provide a fourth tool,” Moncrief said.
In July, Be Well OC began making its initial solo runs in Westminster and will continue to ramp up as they and law enforcement familiarize themselves with each other and build relationships and trust.
Lenyi said Westminster police typically respond to up to 1,500 calls for service for homeless residents needing assistance each month, most of which involve mental health or substance use. He said Be Well OC will provide great relief in that area.
Although the majority of Be Well OC cases are stabilized on the scene, transport is provided when needed. Be Well OC has its own campus in Orange with a sobering unit, mental health urgent care for adults and adolescents, and a number of substance and mental health treatment services. A second Be Well campus is being built in Irvine.
Although Lenyi is proud of the training his police have undergone in treating homelessness, mental health, and substance use, particularly in the homeless liaison detail, he said, the Be Well OC staff is better trained and “the community member having the crisis will be better served by Be Well.”
Moncrief stressed that his group will be operating under specific parameters and guided by the police.
“We work subservient to law enforcement,” he said. “The chief will tell us what to do, where to be and how to do it.”
Westminster city officials were excited to start seeing results.
“I am really excited to have you and your staff in our community,” said Councilmember Carlos Manzo.
“It means a lot to our community,” added Mayor Chi “Charlie” Nguyen.
Repairing a broken system
Moncrief, who has worked at local hospitals since 2000 and overseen mental health operations at a number of those, said he has been on the “front lines of seeing the fragmentation of the mental health system.”
As he described it, “There are two services out in communities that were not designed to bear the burden for these challenges in the community and yet they carry the major brunt of it, and that’s law enforcement and emergency rooms.”
In 2017, the effort began, Moncrief said, “to unify the community and create service solutions.”
One part was bringing services together under one roof at the Be Well OC Orange campus. The other part was to “create a mobile program that can go out into the community and meet people’s needs where they are.”
“The Westminster Police Department is looking forward to this new partnership and is excited to offer this additional service to community members housed and unhoused,” Lenyi said in a prepared statement.
“Our goal is to integrate seamlessly with local law enforcement and first responders who can deploy us to mental health and wellness calls while better prioritizing their staff to address community safety needs. This is a win for residents and local agencies across the board,” Moncrief said in a statement.