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Partnership connects people to the help they need

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Gainesville Sun by: Aida Mallard

Meridian Behavioral Healthcare’s Co-Responder program in partnership with the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office works to provide community-based solutions for citizens suffering with mental illness or substance abuse disorders who may often find themselves involved with the justice system.

The main goal of the program is to divert people from being taken to jail or committed under the Baker Act, a law that allows doctors, judges and law enforcement officials to commit a person to a mental health treatment facility for up to 72 hours.

Since its inception in 2018, the GPD/Meridian Co-Responder team has delivered positive outcomes resulting in 268 jail diversions and 284 Baker Act diversions through direct engagement in the community. The program expanded to ACSO in June 2020.

Joy Riddle, senior vice-president of marketing, communications and advancement at Meridian, said the program is an evidence-based approach that provides a positive form of outreach, community education and crisis deescalation.

The Co-Responder Team consists of a Crisis Intervention Team GPD officer paired with a Meridian clinician who ride together in a police car responding to crises calls that meet the program’s criteria.

GPD Corporal Shelley Postle, an experienced CIT officer who holds a master’s degree in forensic psychology, said the team monitors calls made to dispatch to identify and prioritize calls. She said a high priority call would be a suicide or attempted suicide. She also said typical calls include mental illness issues, people in crisis, emotionally charged situations, domestic disturbances, drug use crisis, community referrals and other crises.

Postle has been credited by her peers with “providing significant contributions in helping to establish and grow the co-responder model in Alachua County.” Jeremiah Alberico, vice president of diversion and recovery at Meridian, said in a news release the skills and insight Postle brings to CIT have been instrumental and invaluable to Meridian, GPD and the community.

The program received 188 calls for an average of 63 calls per month from January through March, and 52% of those calls were from women, while 48% were from men, Postle said.

Postle said the CIT will respond to any call and scene, always ensuring the safety of the clinician. She said call are evaluated. Some situations can be referred to the Alachua County Crisis Center, which offers 24 hour per day crisis and suicide intervention phone counseling.

The person in crisis may choose to go to a receiving facility such as Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Shands Vista, North Florida Regional Medical Center or the Malcolm Randall Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Riddle said the program has been successful and called the partnership with law enforcement “fantastic.”

“The biggest challenge is the amount of people that need more assistance,” said Riddle. “More Community Intervention Teams are needed. We need to make sure people get the treatment they need.”

See the original April 28, 2021 story here: https://www.gainesville.com/story/news/2021/04/28/partnership-connects-people-help-they-need/7367647002/

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