BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — 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, Danielle Csogi.
“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 attempted suicide.
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 treatment program.
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 involuntarily.
“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 families.
“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.