Deerfield Select Board commits to hiring community health worker


Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2021 5:40:00 PM

DEERFIELD — The Select Board has committed to hiring a community health worker at the recommendation of a group of residents who have been working for a year on a proposal creating more mental health resources.

The group, comprised of Annie Curtis, Erika Higgins-Ross, Megan Relin, Lu Vincent and Planning Board Chair Analee Wulfkuhle, said they identified a need for a mental health professional in Deerfield and that the town should start by employing a community health worker before working toward a licensed social worker.

Speaking to the board earlier this month, Curtis and Vincent said they have met with Deerfield’s police, school adjustment counselors and South County Senior Center staff, who all said they are seeing a “huge need” for more mental health resources for residents, especially as the Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.

“This is an issue that affects so many people,” Curtis told the Select Board. “Our community is already in crisis and we’re heading for more.”

Curtis and Vincent presented a spreadsheet at the meeting detailing the training requirements, job responsibilities and financial details of hiring either a community health worker or a clinical social worker. A full-time community health worker would have a $35,000 salary plus benefits, while a clinical social worker would have a minimum salary of $50,000 plus benefits. Curtis said a community health worker would be a good option to begin building a grant application toward funding a clinical social worker.

“A municipal social worker is hands down the best option in an ideal world,” Curtis said. “We believe the community health worker route could be a more feasible option to start right away.”

The community health worker would act as a “resource liaison” and refer people to proper mental health treatments based on their needs. The town could then gather data from the community health worker and use that to build its grant application when seeking a clinical social worker.

Select Board member Carolyn Shores Ness asked Curtis and Vincent if enough data could be gathered so Deerfield could hire a clinical social worker next year.

“Do you think we can get enough data to figure out how to do the social worker in a few months?” Shores Ness asked. “I want this to be happening in the next budget year.”

Vincent said even if the town is given a grant to hire a social worker, it can still take a while to find one.

“One of the issues the community health worker solves in this moment is that it can take a long time for us to get a social worker,” Vincent responded. “There are organizations desperate for social workers.”

Shores Ness said the town should move forward with hiring someone, noting that the direct cost to the town would be minimal.

“We should get started, and it is fairly cheap to start,” Shores Ness said. “Going forward with this proposal makes so much sense. … It’s hardly any money out of our pocket at the moment.”

The group recommended using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Select Board member David Wolfram said the town should move as “soon as humanly possible” to appropriate money so the town can hire someone.

Shores Ness said federal funding and grant money could make this a “sustainable” position, but the town will need to come up with a competitive grant application to make it work.

“You have to build your story. We need some data. We need outreach happening so we can get this going,” Shores Ness explained. “We need to come up with something that will make us competitive. … We’re really good at being innovative.”

Shores Ness said a community health worker could provide much-needed support for children and seniors in the community, even if they cannot provide direct mental health services.

“There’s a huge need with our kids,” Shores Ness said. “The seniors have been so shortchanged in this pandemic … and now this variant is coming back.”

Shores Ness said the accelerating spread of the Delta variant creates a greater need for mental health support and she is glad the town is moving in the direction of more resources for residents.

“(The pandemic) is moving so fast,” Shores Ness said after the meeting. “I’m excited this is going to happen.”

Curtis said she appreciates that the Select Board sees a need for more mental health resources, even if this is just the start.

“They recognize this is an ongoing problem,” Curtis said. “It seems they’re in it for the long-term.”

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