Barger unveils fleet of ‘therapeutic transport vans’ for mental health patients

Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Dr. Jonathan Sherin, Director, L.A. County Department of Mental Health, check out the inside of a Therapeutic transport van. courtesy photo, Los Angeles County.

As part of the county’s ongoing effort to address the rising need for greater care for mental health sufferers, county Supervisor Kathryn Barger unveiled a fleet of mental health therapeutic transport vans.

Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, presented the specialty vehicles Monday morning from the steps of the Hall of Administration building on Temple Street in Los Angeles.

Dr. Jonathan Sherin, Director, L.A. County Department of Mental Health, and Supervisor Kathryn Barger pose next to a therapeutic transport van.

The 10 brand new Ford vans are expected to help reduce the long waiting time mental health sufferers endure waiting to be transported during a crisis.

The vehicles are also expected to reduce the trauma they might experience riding in an ambulance or law enforcement vehicle since they involve restraints.

Having the new vehicles transport the patient frees up first responder vehicles such as ambulances and police cruisers required at other emergencies. Barger noted that using police cars and ambulances to transport mental health patients results in slower emergency response times.

Those suffering from a mental health crisis need sensitive care and state-of-the-art resources, she said at the news conference.

“For too long, people facing a mental health crisis have relied on ambulances and police cars as transport to treatment centers — often escalating the trauma and discomfort of an already-difficult experience,” she said.

“Today, we are excited to announce that we have taken a meaningful step to address these problems,” she added.

“The new state-of-the-art therapeutic transport vans will provide people experiencing a mental health crisis with the same level of care during transport that they would get in a medical facility,” Barger said.

Ten mental health vans now available across the county to each of the five districts means two of the vans are to be assigned specifically to the 5th District.

The vans are to be staffed with a trained clinician and a peer specialist to provide therapeutic support and de-escalation tactics to reduce the stress of the passenger — and enough space for a loved one to ride along.

A 40-inch monitor installed in each van means patients would be able to talk to a psychiatrist while in transit.

“All of these measures will decrease trauma and minimize law enforcement involvement as the primary means of mental health crisis response,” Barger said.

In addition to the 10 therapeutic transport vans, Barger also unveiled 10 additional vehicles earmarked specifically for mental evaluation teams that respond with sheriff’s deputies on mental health calls.

“While most patients are non-violent,” Barger said, “those few who may pose a threat will be served by our sheriff’s mental evaluation team vans — an additional fleet of 10 vehicles tailored specifically for their needs.”

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