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Some 911 callers can access mental health hotline

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County residents caught in a mental-health crisis can now call 911 to be connected with a counselor any time of the day or night.

Help is available in both English and Spanish.

The goal is to make it easier for people to connect with the services they need, without having to remember or look up the number for a mental health hotline.

It could also avoid a full lights-and-sirens response to a person in crisis when a simpler, less-intimidating response is appropriate, supporters say.

Bernalillo County and the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line announced the new program Tuesday. The line, known as NMCAL, is funded by the state.

The 911 service is available now only to residents within the unincorporated parts of the county, or outside city limits. But supporters say they hope to offer the service within Albuquerque, too, at some point.

Katrina Hotrum, director of the county’s substance-abuse programs, said the county trained its 911 operators and other emergency personnel to identify when someone could benefit from a connection to the state’s crisis hotline.

No one will be forced to talk to a counselor, but the operators will offer to patch one onto the line if the person agrees. The operator can remain on the line or disconnect from the call, depending on how the conversation plays out.

“We know we need to open up more doors – more front doors – to services,” Hotrum said.

The effort is part of a new behavioral-health initiative launched by the city and county governments. The County Commission adopted a tax increase last year that is raising about $17 million a year for new services.

A joint city-county board is working to develop the programs.

The 911 call line won’t cost anything other than employee time, county officials said.

New Mexico has some of the highest rates of suicide and overdose deaths in the country.