Andrea Carver has been riding with Bangor police officers for nearly eight weeks in an effort to help people in crisis due to substance abuse and mental health issues connect with service providers.
But Carver, who until recently was a behavioral health case manager at Acadia Hospital, will be back at her former 9-to-5 job when the grant funding for her position runs out next year.
Funding for Carver’s position came from a $121,502 Maine Substance Abuse Assistance Grant from the Department of Public Safety. But the Legislature did not refund the program past 2018.
The 18-month long pilot program was created with Bangor Public Health Department, according to Bangor police Chief Mark Hathaway, who said the program has been “critical” for people in crisis.
“Our officers need field-level solutions for these challenges on nearly every shift. This program provides the solutions, options and alternatives that we truly need,” he said. “We are very disappointed that the state will not aid in funding this program into the future,” he continued. “We will be in a desperate search to find other funding sources.”
The program was approved last year by the Maine Legislature and $900,000 was appropriated to fund it. The law allowed grants to be allocated to municipal or county governments by the Department of Public Safety for projects designed to help low-level offenders receive treatment and support services.
The Sanford Police Department is using the grant to help people pay for medication-assisted treatment using Suboxone combined with behavioral therapy, according to information on its website.
The Aroostook County district attorney’s office is using its grant to fund a case manager who supervises inmates for a year after their release who agree to drug testing and intensive treatment. The program uses some of the same guidelines and sanctions used by drug courts, according to Adam Lavoie, director of the Diversion Academy. There is no drug court in Aroostook County.
The Portland Police Department is using the grant to help fund a case manager position similar to the one in Bangor who began working in February 2016 . The position also is funded with drug forfeiture money.
Other agencies that received grant money include the Westbrook, Scarborough and Portland police departments, the City of Biddeford and the Somerset County sheriff’s office.
Carver rides from 4 to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday, with patrol officers.
Because she does not have the power to arrest people and does not wear a uniform or carry a weapon, Carver has found in her short time on the job that most people are more comfortable talking with her than with an officer. So far, she has dealt more with people facing mental health issues than with those in a substance abuse crisis.
“There have been situations where people are really tense because a cop knocks on the door and people can be really defensive,” she said. “I can say ‘Hey, I’m not an officer. I’m just here to help you. I just want to talk to you to see if we can process whatever’s going on.’ I’ve seen situations where the person has just calmed right down and had a little hope that things are going to be okay.”
One of those people is a man who lives in a group home but often experiences extreme paranoia. Before he met Carver, the man was calling 911 as often as several times a day.
“He was a hardcore caller of 911,” she said “In my first or second week I was introduced to him. I told him, ‘If you aren’t in real danger, don’t call 911. Call me and let’s process this to see if you need to call 911.’ His calls to 911 have dropped drastically. He’ll call and check in with me Monday through Friday and we chat. I think that’s been very helpful for him and for dispatchers.”
Carver said that she connected the man with the peer counseling program at Acadia Hospital, which should allow him to socialize more and could help ease his paranoia.
Being able to help people addicted to alcohol or drugs often means being able to recognize when they are ready to accept help, according to Carver.
“There are people who do cry out and say, ‘I don’t want this life any more,’” Carver said. “You’ve got to get them at that moment.”
Because she still is paid through Acadia Hospital and knows the providers there, Carver is able to get help quickly for people in crisis who have previously received services there. When people don’t have insurance and are not connected to any services, Carver tries to set them up with free services ranging from therapy to medication management to attending ze with people who have similar issues.
Officer James Hassard, who has ridden with Carver about half a dozen shifts, said that her background in mental health is “very helpful” to patrol officers.
“She is well-trained in recognizing and dealing with mental health issues,” he said Monday. “We have some minimum training but she had the knowledge and the ability to find solutions.”
Most of the challenges she faces are similar to those faced by other people who work in the social services sector — quickly securing housing or treatment for people without insurance or resources in a state without enough treatment facilities or options.
“Really, the biggest challenge is that interactions are quick,” Carver said.
“It’s like being able to build a rapport with someone in that brief moment so that they are able to trust you.”