Easthampton, Hadley police departments get help from mental health clinician

  • —File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2021 8:26:10 PM

Police officers responding to mental health and substance abuse calls in Easthampton and Hadley can now call upon a mental health clinician to assist them with de-escalating certain situations.

Through a partnership with the regional nonprofit Clinical & Support Options, the police departments are piloting a co-response program that the police chiefs say is already paying dividends.

In Hadley, Police Chief Michael Mason said the shared co-response clinician, Emma Reilly, was able to assist officers dispatched to a call in a neighboring community on her first day.

“The officers in each department are extremely happy with how this program is working so far and we are all happy to have her help,” Mason said.

Robert J. Alberti, Easthampton’s chief of police, said the co-response program provides an alternative to traditional models of response, with accountability to the community, family members and those in need of mental health services.

“Our co-response promotes education, sensitivity, understanding and the continued building of community partnerships here in Easthampton,” Alberti said.

The program comes through a memorandum of understanding between the police departments and CSO. Reilly, a master’s level licensed clinical social worker, started in mid-September in the 40-hour-a-week position. Between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily, Reilly can be dispatched in each community, and an around-the-clock backup is also available.

There is no cost to Easthampton or Hadley, with the departments filing a joint application to the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health for a grant that would further fund the program as a “Jail Diversion” effort.

Co-response and de-escalation strategies have been a mission for CSO for a long time, said CSO President & CEO Karin Jeffers, adding that the agency works closely with police throughout the area.

“Having formal agreements and working relationships in place only furthers our mutual value of and progression toward community policing models,” Jeffers said.

A similar program launched in April serves Greenfield, Montague and Deerfield.

Mason said his department aims to build on the success.

“Many of the officers from both of our agencies are trained and certified in crisis intervention, but an embedded clinician, like Emma, adds yet another layer of assistance and trust that we feel our communities want and need,” Mason said.

School departments, too, will benefit from the program, said Jennifer LaRoche, CSO’s vice president of acute and day programs.

“We’ve already heard positive feedback from administration in the school departments,” LaRoche reports. “Sending a co-responding clinician alongside an officer improves perceptions on some calls.”

CSO, which operates licensed behavioral health clinics throughout the area, oversees Hampshire and Franklin County’s Emergency Services Programs.

Besides the work on calls the co-response clinician is dispatched to, Reilly will also manage referrals and provide follow-up care when appropriate.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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