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O.C. program takes mental health care where it’s needed most

A member of Be Well OC's Mobile Crisis Response Team performs outreach to people living in Huntington Beach.
A member of Be Well OC’s Mobile Crisis Response Team performs outreach to people living in Huntington Beach. The program was launched in late summer of 2021 and has since served 2,000 individuals in need of mental health services, substance abuse treatment and housing.
(Courtesy of Be Well OC)

Good morning. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 5. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you today’s TimesOC newsletter with the latest roundup of news and events.

A little over a year ago the nonprofit Be Well OC and the Huntington Beach Police Department forged a program — the first of its kind in the county — to respond to 911 calls involving mental health issues as well as to requests for assistance on a non-emergency line.

My colleague Eric Licas took a look at how the program fared over its first 12 months and learned that within that period 2,040 calls seeking help were logged, 1,548 of which were related to a need for mental health services. Program officials reported that 1,200 people were connected with someone who could offer meaningful assistance in a non-threatening way. About 49% of those helped during the first year were homeless.

The individuals who receive help from the crisis teams come from all walks of life, said Tameka Tates, Be Well OC’s director of Mobile Services. Meeting people at their homes can circumvent the stigma associated with seeking care and other barriers that keep people from getting treatment, she told Licas.

Assigning the team to take care of calls regarding mental health crises keeps police and firefighters available to tackle other issues, police department spokeswoman Jessica Cuchilla pointed out.

And it’s easier for those who need help in these situations to talk to people in regular clothing rather than to uniformed officers, Police Lt. Bryan Smith, a member of the crisis team, explained to Licas.

The crisis team also conducts follow-up visits with their clients to make sure they have the support they need to move forward.

“This really filled an important void that was out there for the continuum of care,” Smith said. “Because from the public safety side, our response was along the lines of: ‘How can we immediately resolve this situation?’ And then our involvement was either cut off there or we transport them to an emergency medical facility, nothing in the middle.”

“Smith recalled how he used to see the apprehension rise in people around him whenever he would respond to police calls involving a mental health issue while wearing a gun and handcuffs strapped to his belt,” Licas writes. “Regardless of what he might say to deescalate the situation back then, the people he was trying to help couldn’t ignore the fact that it was possible he might arrest them or even shoot someone if things took a turn for the worse.”

And Smith had to leave if he received notification of a crime in progress while he was trying to work with someone on the verge — or in the midst — of a breakdown. Another officer might be able to show up later to take his place, which meant the person they were trying to aid or their relatives would have to rehash their emergency to another first-responder.

“It can be traumatizing to have to reexplain the situation, sometimes three or four times and to different people each time,” Smith said.

There is no cost to the clients helped by the Be Well OC program, which received $1 million in support from the city of Huntington Beach. Some people, Licas reports, have grumbled on social media about the price tag the city’s footing for the operation, but the city “sees the tremendous value in this program to help the most vulnerable,” Cuchilla said.

MORE NEWS

Catalina Island
A Huntington Beach man, Justin Hoang, went missing from a dive boat in the waters off Catalina Island at about 1 a.m. Monday. He was found dead later in the day after an ocean search by rescue crews.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

— Crews combed the waters surrounding Catalina Island in hope of rescuing a Huntington Beach man who went missing early Monday, Oct. 3, but he was found dead later that day. The man who died was identified as 42-year-old Justin Hoang, according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Aidan Cooney. Hoang was last seen alive wearing a black wet suit at about 1 a.m. Monday by the crew aboard the dive vessel, Cee Ray.

— A person suspected of stealing one car near Fashion Island led police on a brief pursuit and allegedly carjacked another vehicle as he fled, then wound up in the Dover Shores area of Newport Beach and was barricaded in a home surrounded by officers Tuesday afternoon. Later last night he was arrested without incident and identified by police as Alfredo M. Hopgood, a 26-year-old Costa Mesa resident.

— The 49th Congressional District straddles Orange and San Diego counties, stretching from Laguna Beach to Del Mar. My colleague Seema Mehta took a look at what issues matter most to voters living in that district as they consider the Nov. 8 ballot. The high cost of gas and other goods is at the top of their minds, but there are also deep concerns about the fragility of the environment. They’re tasked with deciding between reelecting the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Mike Levin, who blames the high gas prices on “the three P’s”: the pandemic, Putin and price gouging,” and Republican challenger Brian Maryott, a former Wells Fargo executive who believes the government is moving too quickly to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

— Perhaps you felt it: A magnitude 3.1 earthquake was reported 1:24 a.m. Monday in Anaheim, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The earthquake occurred less than a mile from Yorba Linda, 2 miles from Orange, 3 miles from Placentia and 3 miles from Chino Hills.

— The Houston-based company operating the oil pipeline that ruptured off Huntington Beach last fall announced Saturday the government has green-lighted its plans to repair the pipeline. In a press release, Amplify Energy Corp. said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted it a permit to remove and replace damaged segments of the pipeline, a job that is estimated to take about a month.

— A veteran teacher was arrested Thursday on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl at a Santa Ana elementary school, police said. The girl alleged that Joseph Frances Deluca, 47, touched her inappropriately in a classroom at Edison Elementary School, Santa Ana police said. Deluca, who currently works as a substitute teacher, is a resident of Irvine and was teaching at Robert Heidman Elementary School in Tustin the day of his arrest, police said.

LIFE & LEISURE

Guests taste Lanson Champagne during the Pacific Wine & Food Classic at the Newport Dunes in Newport Beach on Saturday.
(James Carbone)

— Organizers estimate roughly 800 people turned out at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort Saturday afternoon for the Pacific Wine & Food Classic. The event, featuring wine and food offerings from dozens of vendors, was a welcome return for organizers, who canceled the food festival the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

— The Newport Beach Film Festival, which gets underway Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 20, will represent a homecoming for Corona del Mar High graduate Parker Seaman. The 30-year-old director is thrilled to show his debut documentary-style film, “Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying,” at Regal Edwards Big Newport on Monday, Oct. 17. “I’ve been to this theater, I don’t know, 500 times?” Seaman told reporter Matt Szabo, who quoted him for this feature story. “To be playing here is incredible. The first R-rated movie that I snuck into was ‘Jackass,’ in Theater 1 right here.”

SPORTS

Los Angeles Angels' Kurt Suzuki runs the bases after hitting a home run.
Los Angeles Angels’ Kurt Suzuki runs the bases after hitting a home run in April. Suzuki is wrapping up his MLB career.
(Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

— About 15 years and four months since he experienced it as a rookie for the Oakland A’s, the Angels’ Kurt Suzuki reminisced about his MLB debut in this story by L.A. Times reporter Sarah Valenzuela. “Walking in here for one final time as a player, you kinda feel weird,” Suzuki said Monday in Oakland before the start of the Angels’ final series of the season. “I don’t think it’ll hit me until I start getting on the field.”

The Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League has come miles from its launch in 2008, when it began with a single team. Now in its 15th season, the league now has an all-time high of 55 teams, offering ice hockey to kids in the counties of Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as the Inland Empire. My colleague Andrew Turner filed a story over the weekend on how the program is thriving under the leadership of league commissioner Matt Blanchart.

CALENDAR THIS

A visitor takes a photo of an outdoor sculpture at OCMA.
A visitor takes a photo of an outdoor sculpture titled “Of Many Waters” on the upper terrace at the new Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa. The museum opens to the public with a 24-hour celebration beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

— The new Orange County Museum of Art, 3333 Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa, plans a marathon, 24-hour-long grand opening this weekend. It begins Saturday, Oct. 8 at 5 p.m. with a drumline procession down Avenue of the Arts that wends toward a rooftop terrace, where a fireworks show will be waiting. Following that will be a line-up of tours and live performances, a rooftop dance party, silent disco with headphones, movies for insomniacs, tarot readings, aura photography and sunrise yoga. “It starts at 5 p.m. and will literally go nonstop until 5 p.m. on Sunday evening,” OCMA Director and Chief Executive Heidi Zuckerman said during a media preview of the $93-million complex and its inaugural exhibitions. Admission is free this weekend and for the next 10 years (!) thanks to a hefty donation from Lugano Diamonds of Newport Beach.

— The Surf City Arts Fest, hosted by the Huntington Beach Art Center, takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 8, at Huntington Beach Central Park, 7111 Talbert Ave. There will be a dozen DIY art projects, including printmaking, sculpture, tie-dye and collage. Local and regional fine arts will showcase their works and there will be food vendors, live music and performances by dancers.

KEEP IN TOUCH

If you have a memory or story about Orange County, I would love to read and share it in this space. Please try to keep your submission to 100 words or less and include your name and current city of residence.

I’d appreciate your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Please send news tips, your memory of life in O.C., or comments to carol.cormaci@latimes.com.