WORCESTER, Mass. - The City of Worcester is taking treatment on the road with a new pilot program for emergency mental health and substance use calls.

What You Need To Know

  • Worcester has launched a new pilot program for on-site mental health and substance use response

  • A team of clinicians, case managers and peer educators will help de-escalate situations

  • The program will only cover certain sections of Worcester before a planned expansion after the pilot

  • It is a collaboration between UMass Memorial Health, the City of Worcester and first responders

The Mental Health Community Mobile Crisis Response Pilot Program was developed by UMass Memorial Health’s Community Healthlink, and will use crisis teams to respond directly to the site of a mental health or substance use emergency.

Dale Kline, Community Healthlink’s senior director of crisis response, said while police, fire and other first responders have been doing a great job in their own response to these crises, having experts on the ground brings benefits for everyone.

“Being able to go meet people where they are and help them in a moment of crisis, whether it’s mental health related or substance use related emergencies, our team wants to come in and help bring some calm and steadiness to the situation,” Kline said.

Kline will lead a group of mental health clinicians, case managers and peer educators who will work together and help de-escalate emergencies on the street. He hopes the program’s early returns will show fewer incidents resulting in an arrest or a trip to the emergency room.

“We want to build rapport and trust with individuals in our community and then help them get access to the right level of support that they need,” Kline said. “Not have to wait hours or potentially days, but help them connect them with the right level of care pretty immediately. We’ll be running in tandem with first responders in the city and we believe it will make a big difference.”

The pilot program is a collaboration between Community Healthlink, the Worcester Police and Fire Departments and the city’s Emergency Communications Department.

If an officer finds someone on a call is in need of mental health assistance, they can call the mobile crisis response team from their radios. Alternatively, field clinicians can call police for backup as needed.

Lt. Sean Murtha said the pilot program should make mental health and substance use calls much easier to handle.

“Officers have a significant amount of training in mental health issues, but obviously not as much as a specialized mental health clinician will have, so it’ll be good to have their expertise,” Murtha said. “I think from our point of view, it gives us another option.”

In these early days, the program will only cover the dispatch areas of the Worcester Fire Department’s South Division and the Park Avenue Fire Station. Kline hopes the pilot program shows enough promise to hire more people and save lives across the city.

“We want to build this the right way,” Kline said. “We want this to be a lasting team that helps to serve the city, to serve our neighborhoods. We’re endeavoring to build it the right way.”

The program had initially been announced by City Manager Eric Batista on Wednesday. It will be funded by the City of Worcester. In a statement, Batista said he’s thankful for Community Healthlink’s leadership.

“Not only did they create an inclusive, equitable model for service, but they also made sure to include all members of the community in the process of developing the program,” Batista said. “We strongly believe this program will help improve the efficacy of response to and treatment of individuals in our City who are experiencing crisis.”