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On the front lines

Acadia Hospital and the Bangor Police Department are working together to find effective ways to provide support to officers in the field who oftentimes find themselves confronted with an individual dealing with a mental health or substance use challenge. This fresh approach to de-escalation of potentially explosive interactions provides opportunities for individuals to be proactively managed so their situation doesn’t end up with a visit to the local Emergency Department. It also allows for earlier detection and intervention, providing a person in crisis with the right care at the right place and time. 

It’s a gray February day and melting snowbanks line the streets of Bangor. David Tremble is riding around in a patrol car with police officer Dustin Dow chatting about their work over an occasional interruption by the police scanner. “I have somebody being evaluated at the Emergency Department from out of town I have to follow up with,” Dave explained to Officer Dow. 

Dave is dressed in a plaid shirt and khaki pants and is equipped only with his knowledge and experience as a community mental health liaison. He is an employee of Acadia Hospital who is permanently stationed at the Bangor Police Department. His job is to go out with officers and assist them with mental health and substance use calls.

“The officers and supervisors love having the mental health professionals around to help with mental health issues because that’s not what they expected to be doing as they became police officers and that’s where our knowledge and experience play an important role,” Dave explained.

DSC_0622-(1).JPGDave covers the day shifts Monday thru Friday while Andrea Carver, Acadia Hospital’s second mental health liaison, covers nights and weekends. “The officers will rely on me regarding what kind of help we can offer this person,” said Andrea.  

Acadia Hospital has committed resources to staff Dave’s position at the police department, however Andrea’s position is funded by an 18-month Maine Substance Abuse Assistance Grant the city of Bangor received from the Maine Department of Public Safety. The grant expires this June, and the state has decided it will no longer fund this grant program, but Andrea’s work is so valuable that the department is looking at ways to permanently fund the position. 

“The partnership between the Bangor Police Department and Acadia Hospital is the only of its kind in our state. It’s a true partnership between police officers and mental health and substance abuse professionals working together in the field, day and night, right out of a patrol car, to make certain those in crisis receive the support and aid they need at the moment they need it most,” explained Bangor Police Chief Mark Hathaway.

“I can think of several times when an officer has tried to reason with a person for an hour or more, but they’re not receptive to the officer. Dave or Andrea, with their expertise, will step in and are very helpful in finding a positive solution,” explained Sgt. Wade Betters, the public information officer for the Bangor Police Department.

DSC_0026-(1).JPGSergeant Betters says Dave and Andrea’s expertise is helpful when determining what level of intervention a person may need, whether they could be released to family or whether, as a last resort, they may need to be involuntarily hospitalized. Scott Oxley, president of Acadia Hospital, sees the value in this partnership because it helps the hospital find the people who need help, when they need it.

“People who need services, especially at a time of crisis, can find getting access to those services such a challenge if there’s no support system for those individuals. Quite often, the Bangor Police Department becomes the support system for people as much as family and friends. It’s our police department that is the front lines in getting people to the support and care they need.”

And on those front lines are people like Dave Tremble and Andrea Carver, doing their best to make sure people who need help, get the right help.

“That’s the goal—to do what I can do and what we can do to help the person have an overall better experience, be more successful in their living situation, and have less involvement with police,” Dave said.

“The thing that I think motivates me the most is I thrive on helping people and seeing people change their lives. Seeing people commit to change and improve their lives is all worth it to me,” added Andrea.