Andrew O’Grady is the chief executive officer of Mental Health America of Dutchess County, which last month signed a one-year contract with the City of Beacon to provide a case manager to work with the Police Department.
What is the case manager’s job description?
We’re going to hire someone who has at least five — and likely many more — years of experience as a community-based behavioral health care manager. That’s somebody who goes into homes on a regular basis, has experience dealing with mental-health and addiction issues and feels comfortable with that scenario. He or she will have contacts for referrals to local services that someone might need.
The case manager isn’t meant to replace a police officer, correct?
Correct. There’s been a lot of talk nationwide, especially with the unfortunate phrase “defund the police,” that’s created a pro-police versus anti-police atmosphere. One fear is that a social worker is going to come take the job of an officer. That’s not what this is about. This is about adding another tool. If you look back 15 or 20 years, psychiatric hospitals and community residences started to downsize. We supposedly built up this “community-based” treatment modality instead, but that has failed. I wish we could rebuild those services, but it’s not happening, and the police are getting the brunt of everything. This is a way for us to put somebody in there who can speed up the process and follow up with people.
Mental Health America filled a similar position with the Poughkeepsie Police Department. How has that gone?
We started in October, and it’s been extremely well-received by the department and the community. The officers are thrilled that they don’t have to deal with situations that aren’t directly related to the job of protecting and serving.
How will you measure success?
We track certain data such as how many contacts the manager has or how many referrals are made to food pantries or treatment centers. We want to be able to show on paper that this is a positive experiment.
The manager will work weekdays. What about after-hours incidents?
The person will have a desk at the police station and will reach out if anything happens after-hours to make referrals. In the morning, he or she will address any notes left by officers the night before. The good thing about this project is that many of the service providers people need already work with Mental Health America. We are hearing from the officers in Poughkeepsie that they wish they had a case manager available on weekends.