Arlington crisis response team may get more staff and expanded hours

Mobile Outreach Support Team coordinator Michael Keen shows Rep. Don Beyer the county’s behavioral health crisis response van launched last month (staff photo by James Jarvis)

Arlington’s response team for people in mental health and substance use crises is on track for a substantial buildout.

An additional $478,286 in federal funds would allow Arlington to hire two therapists and another behavioral health specialist for the Mobile Outreach Support Team (MOST), a county report says. This would mean expanded hours of operation for the team that launched last summer with just three personnel.

The funding would also contribute to a July 1 upgrade to the county’s crisis response process under the Marcus Alert system for behavioral health responses.

The Arlington County Board is expected to vote Saturday to accept funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to make the expansion possible.

MOST staff answer calls in a van equipped with supplies such as a defibrillator, Narcan and fentanyl test strips. They offer an alternative response to emergencies related to mental health, welfare checks, disorderly conduct and other nonviolent issues — though sometimes uniformed police are dispatched to assist with MOST responses.

“The team’s integral role in the continuum of care has reduced the incidence of police and other first responders from providing the primary or sole response to behavioral health crises,” the county report says.

As of late March, the team had assisted 323 people, 32% of whom were diverted from potential criminal charges.

The team currently operates from 1 p.m.-9 p.m. on weekdays, but with additional staffing, it plans to expand hours to 7 a.m.-9 p.m, county spokesperson Kurt Larrick told ARLnow.

More personnel would play a key role in the new Marcus Alert system — meant to formalize protocols for directing 911 calls to a Regional Crisis Call Center, a mobile response team and/or law enforcement.

“We are also using Marcus Alert as a coordination body,” Larrick said. “All the partners were working well on an individual level, but under the Marcus Alert umbrella the collaboration is better and it is a true system instead of independent agencies.”

The county has been planning the forthcoming system since 2021, with input from the Community Services Board, Police Practices Work Group and Marcus Alert Stakeholder Group.

The state requires all Virginia localities to implement Marcus Alert by 2028. In Northern Virginia, Fairfax County, the city of Fairfax, Falls Church and Prince William County have already done so.