Mentally Ill Get Needed Help
Police Partnership Helps Those With Mental Illness
By Ethan Forman
Staff Writer The Salem News
DANVERS - The caller to Middleton police was reporting he'd
found a human hand in a vehicle, and responding officers knew
something other than a crime was up.
By coincidence, that same afternoon, Middleton police had met
with the Danvers Police Department's new mental health clinician,
"An hour later, she was back at our police station," said
Middleton police Chief James DiGianvittorio, "dealing with a
suicidal individual who had some serious mental issues. She was
able to get him into a hospital, because we had no other means to
deal with that person."
That's exactly the goal of the new Danvers Police Jail Diversion
Program: keeping people with mental illnesses out of jail, out of
the tangled criminal justice system and out of the emergency room,
all of which are poorly equipped to handle them, said police Chief
Neil Ouellette, who came up with the idea.
The program, which started in September, is funded by grants
from the state Department of Mental Health and the private Evelyn
Lilly Lutz Foundation, a subsidiary of Beverly Hospital. Csogi, who
has 15 years of experience as a crisis worker, works three days a
week, and a Lahey Health Behavioral Services mobile crisis team is
available at other times.
The program is a regional effort spearheaded by Danvers police
and shared with the Middleton and Topsfield departments. Part of
the reason for the program is that the Danvers department has seen
a spike in mental health calls.
Police responded to 101 mental health calls during the first
eight months of 2010. During the same eight months in 2011, there
were 124 calls, and during the same period last year, there were
166 calls. They ranged from people who were bipolar or suffering
from dementia, to those who were suicidal or depressed or had
Csogi sometimes responds to mental health calls along with
officers. Other times, she works the phones, making follow-up calls
to those with emotional or substance abuse problems or those with
developmental disabilities or behavioral issues that officers
encounter. She also works the phones to find those in crisis with
the right kinds of treatment.
"The mentally ill are being arrested unnecessarily for crimes
they didn't really mean to do," Csogi said.
They've dealt with a suicidal person who overdosed on
prescription medication, and a suicidal woman experiencing auditory
hallucinations. In both cases, clinicians were able to divert these
people away from an emergency room to a voluntary, community-based
In another case, Csogi was able to divert an adolescent who had
vandalized a school bathroom into treatment, away from the criminal
justice system and a charge of destruction of property. She did so
after visiting the adolescent's home.
"No doubt, people with chronic mental or substance abuse
problems often get arrested for menial crimes because there is
nothing else we can do to solve the problem," Ouellette said.
That is often the case when an individual does not fit the
guidelines to be committed to a treatment program
"Sometimes, the police end up arresting him because there is
nothing else they can do," Ouellette said.
The program is based on one started in Framingham, but the
Danvers program is the only one in the state to have a hospital, in
this case Beverly Hospital, as a partner, Ouellette said.
The hospital was seeing elevated rates of hospitalizations due
to mental health, substance abuse and behavioral health issues at
the time Ouellette approached them about the program, said Gerald
MacKillop, the hospital's public relations manager.
"It's not always appropriate for them to go into the justice
system," MacKillop said, "and it's not always appropriate for them
to be coming into the emergency department." It becomes a safety
issue for staff when someone with a mental health or substance
abuse issue is sitting in the emergency room waiting to see a
doctor or a nurse.
"We are able to take them out of that setting completely,"
MacKillop said, "and get them into the appropriate setting of care,
or we have the locked units at Beverly Hospital where we can get
them in, get them to the appropriate setting."
Keeping someone with mental health issues out of the emergency
room may mean a longer response time, but Csogi said it's worth it
if she can find the right treatment option.
The program appears to be working. Since it started in
September, Csogi and another mental health worker have served 47
people, according to the Danvers police. Of those, 32 cases were
handled by Cosgi, eight by Cosgi and the crisis team, and seven by
the crisis team alone.
Of the 40 cases Cosgi dealt with, 30 were diverted from the
emergency room for psychiatric treatment. The crisis team diverted
six of the seven cases it saw. One incident resulted in an arrest,
and another individual refused services.
Csogi has also been able to diffuse situations involving six to
eight kids in crisis at Danvers High, said Danvers police Sgt.
Robert Bettencourt, and she continues to work with those
"It's doing what it's supposed to do," said Bettencourt, the
head of community services, of the program.
One sign of success: officers who were at first hesitant to work
alongside Csogi, he said, are now disappointed when she's not
working their shift.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by
email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on
Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.