Politics and the City: Adding layer of mental health care for 911 calls – Worcester Telegram

WORCESTER — UMass Memorial Health – Community Healthlink is teaming up with the city’s Health and Human Services and public safety departments to design a program where mental health experts respond with officers to certain emergency calls. 
“Adding another layer of support and expertise to our crisis support is something that will really benefit our community,” Tamara Lundi, Community Healthlink president, said Friday. “This is really about trying to address the mental health concerns that are often funneled through 911 calls – issues like overdoses, homelessness, disputes, etc., that could benefit from mental health expertise.”
The initiative is a result of the Mayor’s Mental Health Taskforce, where stakeholders analyzed what crisis response looked like in the city and how it could be improved. 
Community Healthlink — which Lundi noted has “a long history of providing mental health and mobile crisis intervention” in Worcester — announced Monday that it had been selected as the partner for the initiative, which is funded by a $1 million grant from the city’s Department of Health and Human Services.
“The most important piece is that we talk about access — and a lot of 911 calls may be repeat calls because (the callers) don’t have anybody to help them through the process,” Dr. Matilde Castiel, commissioner of Health and Human Services, said Friday. “The idea is that these clinicians will be embedded and then continue to follow the clients. So, hopefully we can decrease 911 calls and get clinical help for the people who need it.”
Thus, Castiel explained that a clinician might not only help reverse an overdose, but also work to get the client into treatment, help them with recovery and connect them with other services.
“If we can have somebody follow them on the outside, connect them to services, that’s the important piece: the navigation of services,” Castiel said.
There is still a lot to figure out before the program goes live, however. 
So, for the next nine months, stakeholders including Worcester Fire, Police and dispatch; local EMS companies; experts in crisis response and other fields; community organizations that provide mental health services, and others will gather to discuss similar programs in other cities, lessons learned from these models, and how something could be “tailored” for Worcester, Lundi said. 
“We will be convening a group of stakeholders from various backgrounds to make sure we have a comprehensive group look at this issue,” Lundi said. “There’s really an emphasis on diversity and equity to make sure we’re getting into communities and…so everyone is aware we’re taking an approach that is culturally sensitive as well as informed by clinical practice.”
After the planning phase is completed, Community Healthlink hopes to implement a model where several clinicians will be on duty every shift.
Lundi said that a crisis response team also might include outreach workers who have had similar experiences to the caller — for example, individuals who have been homeless or recovery coaches. 
“Those who’ve been in those shoes… can help in a real way,” she said. 
Lundi added that she hoped Worcester would come to recognize the clinicians as a normal part of the emergency response and, as in other cities, start to request the clinicians for certain calls.
“This is a community issue,” she said of mental health. “It’s going to take a community to solve it.”
Contact Cyrus Moulton at cyrus.moulton@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @MoultonCyrus


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