By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Hudson/Marlborough – During a police officer’s shift, he or she may be called to answer a vast array of calls ranging from alleged theft, assault, accidents, or medical crises such as overdoses. Many times, it may also be a call involving domestic abuse or someone experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis. Arresting the person may not be the best answer for either the person, the police department or indeed, society at large. Thanks to an innovative program, the Jail Diversion program, overseen by Advocates, Inc., and run in conjunction with local police departments, pairs of police officers and masters-level trained clinicians who accompany officers on calls involving a mental health or substance related crisis work as a team to support the community. Not only do the clinicians provide de-escalation, but they also offer comfort, crisis stabilization and assessment services. By doing so, the program also helps alleviate the stress of police departments that are already overburdened.
Advocates, based in Framingham, is an agency that partners with individuals, families, and communities to provide solutions to life challenges. They work with a diverse client base, of all age groups and situations, and help those with addictions, mental health issues, and those needing family and caregiver support, to name just a few. The Jail Diversion Program (JDP) originated in Framingham almost 18 years ago (2003). The Marlborough JDP (the second program to exist) launched in 2008. They have programs in Framingham, Marlborough, Watertown, and Natick with regional programs in Hudson and Sudbury, Ashland, Sherborn, Holliston, and Hopkinton (ASHH), Franklin and Medway and the Boroughs consisting of Westborough, Northborough, and Southborough.
Sheena Mahoney, LICSW is the Co-Response Jail Diversion Program Supervisor and has worked in Marlborough for the past four years, while Taylor Hayden, MA, MCJ, is Co-Response Jail Diversion Clinician, working with Hudson and Sudbury Police.
Supporting residents in need
JDP clinicians may assist with four calls a day but it can be up to 10 or 12 on other days. There is no set number of calls that clinicians respond to daily and people served run the gamut of anyone from a young child to an elder in their 90s. The clinicians also work closely with the other organizations in the city as well as the public schools to support mutual clients, Mahoney said. During COVID-19, JDP clinicians are very cognizant that not everyone has access to telehealth or even the Internet for that matter, and work with their clients to support them and help them get the assistance that they need regardless of the barriers.
Many of the calls might be for a ‘wellness check’, especially for senior citizens, she noted. The clinician can assess the situation and help set the client up with the resources they need. Many of the calls the clinicians go on are related to the ongoing opioid crisis.
“We work with the local post-overdose support team as well,” Hayden said.
Mahoney said that one of the biggest benefits to municipalities utilizing their program is the reduction of costly and unnecessary referrals to hospital emergency departments by providing immediate, on-scene treatment-based alternatives. And if the call involves the death of a person, the clinician can take the time to stay with the family to offer comfort and assistance in not only the immediate aftermath but in the ensuing days after.
Marlborough and Hudson have diverse populations. Some of the officers speak conversational Spanish or Portuguese so “there is typically someone to help translate if need be,” Mahoney said.
Support during the pandemic
Mahoney said the pandemic has made some calls a bit more challenging since the clinicians need to wear masks and often meet outside of a residence.
“It does make it a bit more impersonal,” she said, “but we do our best to make the connection.”
“There has definitely been an increase in community anxiety since March,” Hayden said.
She noted that her calls usually increase during the winter months, especially during the holidays. She expected there to be even more this winter.
“Many people are isolated already from their support systems because of the pandemic,” she said.
As such, both women noted that they will continue to work closely with their different partners to help residents during the challenging months ahead.
“It is a privilege and an honor to serve as a resource for the community, especially in such a stressful time,” Mahoney said.