DDPHE to Expand STAR Program After Successful Pilot

Published on August 30, 2021

Program to Expand Citywide with Partners at Mental Health Center of Denver and Denver Health Paramedic Division

The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) is expanding the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program after a successful one-year pilot. STAR is an alternative 911 response program which provides person-centric mobile crisis response to community members who are experiencing mental health, depression, poverty, homelessness and/or substance misuse challenges.

The STAR team responds to calls that have a mental health or substance use component. The team is trained to de-escalate situations and connect individuals in distress with appropriate services. In partnership with the Mental Health Center of Denver, Denver Health Paramedic Division, and the Denver Department of Public Safety, DDPHE will expand the program to respond to calls city-wide between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days per week.

“We know that alternative response works. It works at getting people the help they truly need, and it works at keeping our officers focused on preventing crime. It’s a fundamental issue of equity in the pursuit of justice,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “Denver has also become a national leader in alternative police response, and we’re committed to staying on this path”

The STAR expansion will be funded by $1 million from the City’s supplemental fund, approved by City Council in July, and $1.4 million from the Caring For Denver Foundation, awarded this month, in addition to the originally budgeted $1.4 million in the 2021 budget. 

“The STAR pilot has been successful at delivering behavioral health services to people in need,” said Bob McDonald, DDPHE Executive Director and Public Health Administrator for the City of Denver. “This innovative approach - meeting people where they are, with the right services, at the right time – is a game-changer for Denver. We are excited to expand these services throughout the City.”

A volunteer-based Community Advisory Committee has been seated to bring a community lens to the STAR program. The Committee is a diverse, formally organized group of Denver residents who provide guidance and help to raise awareness and understanding of the program within the community.

STAR Pilot a Success

In June of 2020, Denver launched a one-year pilot of the STAR Program, funded by a grant through Caring For Denver. The pilot focused on calls made in the downtown corridor and the STAR team responded to calls between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., five days per week. In the first year of the pilot, STAR handled 1,400 emergency calls. Of those, there were no arrests, no injuries and no need for police back up.

To date, highlights of the program include:

  • Over 1600 calls completed
  • 33% of calls involved a transport to a support option in the community such as a shelter, organization, walk-in center, detox, etc.
  • Mental health treatment was recommended to 27% of contacts and 7% of contacts were reconnected to care
  • Average call time was 29 minutes, which is 5 minutes faster than a typical police response on the same type of call

According to Chris Richardson, LCSW, the Mental Health Center of Denver’s Associate Director of Criminal Justice, “The intent of STAR is to send the right response, not a one-size fits all response. People call 911 for an array of reasons and it’s not always something that involves risk or a criminal element. If the STAR van can help someone in crisis and that frees up police to handle a robbery or domestic violence call, then that’s an incredible success.”

“With a paramedic and mental health clinician on scene, all bases are covered for physical and behavioral health,” added Richardson. “When STAR pulls up, people in crisis can be assured that two non-judgmental, client-centered, supportive people who are willing to listen are getting out of that van to help.”

“We’re excited to be a part of a team that provides resource options to help keep those experiencing behavioral health events from unnecessary pathways through the criminal justice system or the emergency department. We’re redefining solutions for these events and people to truly address their underlying needs,” said Dave Edwards, Denver Health Paramedic Division Assistant Director of Clinical Performance.

The program also works in cooperation with the Denver Police Department. Approximately 30% of the calls handled by the STAR pilot were referred by police who arrived first on the scene and called to request STAR to handle the situation.

In addition to connecting with STAR via 911, Denver residents can call to specifically request STAR assistance by calling 720-913-STAR (7827) or by calling the non-emergency number 720-913-2000.

To accommodate the STAR program expansion, the Mental Health Center of Denver is hiring licensed clinicians to support the program. More information is available here.