WORCESTER, Mass. - Worcester police weren't the only ones dispatched to Friday's 13-hour standoff. In hopes of finding a peaceful resolution, a mental health clinician was on scene as well.
"We do like to have all available resources," Worcester police Lt. Sean Murtha said at a press conference Saturday. "The more we have, the better."
What You Need To Know
- A pilot program is dispatching mental health clinicians to work with Worcester police officers
- The mental health experts are used to help de-escalate situations, and encourage a peaceful resolution
- Clinicians and police look for signs like depression, confusion, suicidal tendencies and erratic behavior
- A mental health clinician was on scene of Friday's 13-hour stand-off on Worcester's Colby Ave.
Lori Simkowitz-Lavigne is the interim vice president for emergency services at UMass Memorial Health's Community Healthlink. She said while not every day, mental health clinicians are dispatched regularly in an attempt to de-escalate tense situations.
"To understand what might be going on for the individual mental health wise, thoughts, feelings, behavior wise, and to respond to those in an informed way," Simkowitz-Lavigne said.
Simkowitz-Lavigne points to a number of criteria which would necessitate a clinician on-site. She said a suspect may have a condition making them feel depressed, confused or even suicidal and hearing voices. She also said erratic or bizarre behavior is another sign police look for.
"The clinician not only is responding in the moment, but is actually working to connect that individual to services," she said.
Programs like this aren't new. Simkowitz-Lavigne said there have been models being used in Massachusetts for the last 20 years. But with mental health being in the spotlight since the pandemic started, a program like this is as important as ever.
"It's critical to the outcome of the situation," Simkowitz-Lavigne said. "The more we can encourage taking time to de-escalate, taking time to be thoughtful, the more we're going to avoid those bad outcomes. Especially, for individuals who have mental health conditions."
More often than not, she said it's working.
"We can reduce the sort of injury, reduce the disruption in the community for individuals but also, for the rest of the community," Simkowitz-Lavigne said. "We are seeing lots of success around that."