Mental health clinician going on 911 calls with MPD

When an emergency mental health or substance abuse call comes into Marblehead Police, Gina Rabbitt will head to the scene with officers to try to de-escalate the situation and connect people to the services they need.

“Someone might be having the worst day of their life and be in full crisis mode,” said Rabbitt, a mental health clinician who started at MPD about six months ago. “I talk to that person and try to calm them down if they’re feeling anxious. I try to resolve the matter at the scene as compared to arresting the individual or transporting them to the emergency room.”

Rabbitt is embedded with Marblehead police three days a week, thanks to a state-funded program called Jail Diversion. Dozens of Massachusetts police departments, including Salem’s, now have Jail Diversion programs. 

Mental health clinician Gina Rabbitt is embedded with Marblehead Police and responds to mental health and substance abuse calls.

“Our goal is to divert people with psychiatric and substance abuse issues from the criminal justice system to the mental health system,” Chief Dennis King told the Marblehead Current. King received a three-year, $250,000 grant from the state Department of Mental Health to fund Rabbitt’s role and implement crisis intervention training for all Marblehead officers.

Rabbitt, who grew up in Lynnfield, received master’s degrees in mental health counseling and criminal justice. She works with Beth Israel Lahey Health, which contracts with the MPD. Rabbitt goes on calls with officers two to five times a week. When she arrives on scene, she starts by introducing herself.

“I identify who I am and why I’m there and what my role is,” Rabbit said. “People have been receptive.”

After de-escalating the scene, Rabbitt will work with people to find them the right resources, including Community Behavioral Health Centers in Lynn and Danvers, outpatient counseling, a partial hospitalization program or a substance abuse disorder recovery center.

“The need for mental health treatment has grown exponentially,” Rabbitt told the Current. “The more resources we have for people, the better.”

If someone is unsafe and needs the ER, Rabbitt can facilitate that. But given the long wait times and shortage of psychiatric beds, she tries to connect people to other services first.

If a mental health or substance abuse case happens on days she is not working, Rabbitt follows up with the people involved to make sure they are getting the services they need.

Police Chief Dennis King meets with mental health clinician Gina Rabbitt.

King said his officers appreciate having Rabbitt respond to calls and look forward to getting crisis intervention training.

“They want the tools,” King said. “Officers on the scene are trying to help. They are compassionate, and they want to help. We always say, ‘Treat people like they’re your mother.’”

‘An extremely important tool’

Psychologist and member of the Marblehead Mental Health Task Force Dr. Melissa Kaplowitch  calls the Jail Diversion program an “extremely important tool.”

“We know there is an over-representation of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system. This program creates alternative pathways to get people treatment rather than jail,” she said.

King believes funding will stay in place to keep a Jail Diversion clinician on staff after the initial three years. He has also received money to hire a peer support specialist. Peer support specialists are specially trained to work with people who have substance use disorders.That position will be one day a week and should be filled in February.

“Marblehead is committed to helping,” King said, pointing to his two new positions and the Mental Health Task Force. “The town is taking care of its citizens. It’s refreshing.”

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

1 Comment

  • Luis Garcia-Fierro, Ph.D.

    This type of collaborative, police-mental health clinician approach has been long needed and is well worth perpetual funding. It should be applied within more municipalities with well-qualified professionals like Ms. Rabbitt. Thanks to all involved!

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