Lawsuit alleges Oregon county failed to offer equal emergency services for mental health crises

A lawsuit against Washington County, Ore., is alleging that the county did not provide equal access to emergency services for people with mental health needs.

Disability Rights Oregon filed the lawsuit on behalf of county resident Joshua Wesley, who called a suicide hotline for a mental health crisis. Instead of sending help from trained clinicians as he requested, the hotline transferred Mr. Wesley's call to the 911 dispatch center, which sent armed law enforcement officers, according to a Feb. 5 news release from the ACLU.

The lawsuit alleges that Washington County and its Consolidated Communications Agency's procedures discriminate against people with mental health disabilities by failing to provide them equal access to its emergency response system in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"When someone in Washington County, Oregon calls 911 for a physical health emergency, a dispatcher sends trained health professionals, such as paramedics or EMTs. But when someone in the county calls 911 seeking help for a potential mental or behavioral health issue for themselves or others, a dispatcher sends armed law enforcement officers," the ACLU, which is among the civil rights organizations representing Mr. Wesley in the lawsuit, said in the news release.

"Although Washington County has a policy of not commenting on legal matters where the County is named in litigation, we're committed to providing professional and compassionate mental health services to community members experiencing a mental health crisis," the county said in a statement to Fox affiliate KPTV. "Washington County has been working with the ACLU and Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) for the last two months on ways to address their concerns regarding behavioral health calls to 9-1-1 and avoid litigation. We are disappointed that the ACLU and DRO decided to file a lawsuit which we learned of today through the media."

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