“I think it was overwhelming the Fire Department,” LaFrance said. “These ambulances were constantly coming out to crisis calls and having to bring that person over to the hospital.” The police aren’t the only agency that benefits from the partnership with BHN, LaFrance said. In the past, people taken into custody for mental health or substance abuse reasons would be transported to an emergency room by ambulance. Bannon said many of the calls that co-response clinicians answer don’t require a hospital visit at all. Often, the clinician can offer counseling on the spot, or set up an appointment with a counselor. For those with more immediate needs, BHN can provide transportation to its own crisis center on Liberty Street in Springfield.
Ploran was not available for comment this week. Sean Bannon, the coordinator of BHN’s Law Enforcement Program and a former co-response clinician himself, said the program has already proven its success in Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke. The clinicians in those cities have responded to a variety of calls. “The police aren’t always equipped to handle these kinds of services,” said Sgt. Joseph LaFrance of the West Springfield police. “She’s been on numerous calls since we put this program in place” in April.
“Every day is different,” he said. “I had been there to assist individuals who were barricaded, threatening ‘suicide by cop,’ all the way down to I’ve provided trauma support for some individuals who had been involved in an industrial accident downtown.” Although she works at the West Springfield Police Department, she’s paid by the Springfield-based nonprofit Behavioral Health Network Inc. Her job is to accompany police on nonviolent calls where someone may need some form of counseling or mental health services.
When they are not out on emergency calls, clinicians will make follow-up visits to previous patients, Bannon said. West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt applauded BHN for proposing the partnership, and police chief Paul Connor for working with the agency. Ploran works four 10-hour shifts each week. Although BHN offers mental health services throughout metro Springfield, Ploran is assigned specifically to West Springfield. During times when she is not on duty, police can call BHN and ask for a clinician to be sent from its Springfield offices.
“If someone has committed a crime where there is another victim, we’re going to treat that differently” from a case of self-harm or drug abuse, LaFrance said. The clinician does not respond immediately to violent calls, LaFrance said. In those cases, armed officers would make sure everyone is safe before calling in the clinician. Nor does the presence of a mental health expert change police procedures for maintaining public safety and taking a suspected criminal into custody.
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