Co-lead mental health clinician joins Shrewsbury Police

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Jessica Atwood is the new co-clinician for the Shrewsbury Police diversion scheme. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury Police Service responded to nearly 1,000 mental health calls between 2017 and 2021.

This represents a 38% increase over the previous five-year period, according to chef Kevin Anderson.

Enter Jessica Atwood, who is the new co-clinician for the department’s prison diversion program.

“While our officers are excellent at what they do, we need to realize that they are police officers and not licensed mental health professionals with formal mental health training,” Anderson said in a statement. recent press release.

Police see an increase in mental health calls

Seeing the rise in mental health calls, the department sought someone to help provide a higher level of service to residents in the event of a crisis.

Atwood, who started her role in April, told the Community Advocate last week that working with the Shrewsbury Police Department has been “wonderful” so far.

“Everyone has been so welcoming,” she said. “His [a] change for everyone because it’s a brand new position.

“In a short time, from emergencies to follow-ups, she’s been a tremendous asset,” Anderson said. “She has built a very good relationship with the community.”

Atwood grew up near Lowell and Chelmsford, although she has lived in Worcestershire for six years.

She has spent around 12 years in her current profession, working for Framingham-based social services agency Advocates since 2016.

“I’ve always had an interest in psychology and criminal justice,” Atwood said.

Her first job in the field was working as a mental health technician in the emergency room at Lowell General Hospital.

While working at the hospital, Atwood met clinicians who would assess patients in the emergency department.

“I once asked a clinician, ‘How can I get your job?’ “recalls Atwood.

This question led her to return to graduate school before eventually interning and later being hired by Advocates.

Discussions about clinicians go back years

As Anderson described it, the process of bringing in someone with skills like Atwood’s dates back to his interview to become a chef.

Anderson developed a year-long strategic plan, which included evaluating the ministry’s responses for mental health and people in crisis. Anderson wanted to consider training focused on the department’s responses and its ability to identify people in crisis.

He was also interested in exploring whether the department should have a crisis intervention team and hire a mental health clinician.

Once he was officially hired as chief, Anderson indeed began to take a close look at the department.

“One of the things we determined was that there was a need for a mental health clinician,” he said.

The police department received funding approval for the position as part of the fiscal year 2022 budget.

Lt. Nick Perna then worked with Advocates to secure a grant of approximately $300,000 through the state Department of Mental Health.

The grant is valid for three years, supporting Atwood’s position during that time. This also leaves the possibility that it can be renewed after this period.

Other communities bring in clinicians

In launching their co-response program, Shrewsbury joins other communities who have also worked with Advocates on similar efforts.

These communities in the region include Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough, Southborough, and Westborough.

The first Advocates co-response program was launched in Framingham in 2003. Marlborough replicated it in 2008. Hudson joined in 2018. Westborough, Southborough and Northborough have been partners since 2019.

Clinician begins work in Shrewsbury

Back in Shrewsbury, Atwood began working with the Shrewsbury Police Department in April after six weeks of training.

As part of her work, she co-responds with the police to calls ranging from individuals in psychiatric crisis to domestic assaults to cases of services for the elderly.

“[I] assess them, help de-escalate the situation, and get them the appropriate resources and treatment they may need,” Atwood said.

She said it helps avoid “unnecessary” visits to the emergency room.

Shrewsbury officials said Atwood was a major asset to the department, Anderson said.

One of the ministry’s goals is also to redirect people with mental illness and substance use disorders to the health care system as opposed to the justice system.

Over the past year, all officers at Shrewsbury have completed several mental health trainings. Some were also sent to crisis intervention training.

“At the end of the day, it’s the best outcome for the person involved,” Anderson said. “With Jess on hand, she can know the clues to identify someone with emotional issues or mental health issues and provide them with the appropriate services they need.”

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