News, Police

Lynn BHIP brings new approach to public safety

From left, Lynn Behavioral Health Intervention Program members Tanya Valente, Gail Poirier, and Linda Devereaux respond to an overdose on Lynn Common. (Spenser Hasak)

LYNN — After getting a call about an overdose on Lynn Common Thursday, the newest addition to the city’s public-safety resources jumped into action.

The Behavioral Health Intervention Program (BHIP), the city’s new dedicated team, is on a mission to enhance the delivery of services for behavioral health and co-occurring substance-use disorders within the community.

“The BHIP team provides a co-response option so that we can have specialists engage with individuals experiencing a behavioral-health crisis,” Lt. Rick Connick said. “This program will help members of our community to connect with those services more easily while also providing more effective options for follow-up treatment.”

The three-person BHIP team works from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and is made up of Social Worker Tanya Valente, Recovery Coach Gail Poirier, and two rotating paramedics, Bill Healy and Linda Devereaux. The unit even has its own cruiser, featuring medical supplies that Devereaux said make up a “mini-ER.”

The team is an expansion of the city’s efforts to provide behavioral and substance-use care, which began around a decade ago with the Police Department’s Behavioral Health Unit.

According to Connick, BHIP is part of a Jail and Arrest Diversion Initiative and was created as part of an agreement with Eliot Community Health Department and Cataldo Ambulance.

Though not part of the department, BHIP operates out of the Lynn Police Department and works alongside the police, Fire Department, and EMS.

“If it’s a well-being check, a person in crisis, (a person who’s) homicidal or suicidal, having an overdose, or in need of a follow-up, we usually get dispatched from the officers and show up to try to support them,” Poirier said.

The team said every case is different, but in general its role is to be available and supportive for those in need, such as the two people it helped on Lynn Common Thursday who were dealing with substance-use disorders, one of which was taken to the hospital.

Valente spoke with one of the individuals, who didn’t require hospitalization but still was open to support.

“We talked to him and offered him support. He just got out of rehab,” Valente said. “We gave him the card. Obviously now is not the best time to talk about this stuff, but hopefully, he will follow up.”

Poirier said that outcomes differ from case to case, and can range from individuals being placed in rehabilitation and detox centers that day, to plans to follow up with the team at a later date.

She noted it was important for the team to be ready when people like their patient on Thursday reach out for support, even if it’s weeks after the interaction.

“You need to be ready when they call,” Poirier said. “If someone says, ‘Call me when you’re ready,’ and then you call and they don’t answer, you’re going to say, ‘See, I told you… no one’s going to help me.’”

Connick said officers have been receptive to the support the BHIP team has offered in the field, bringing in a set of skills that can not only help in situations but also take the burden off of officers.

“Now they can respond to us out on these calls with a specialized skill set,” Connick said. “Sometimes officers don’t have to stay on-scene while BHIP is engaging with whatever the problem is… It definitely helps the department a lot.”

The team noted that in the short time the program has been in place, it has already begun to build trust in the community, something that Connick said he has noticed as well.

“It doesn’t take long to build your reputation on the street,” Connick said.

Connick said the city is still assessing the program to determine future plans.

“We would always like to expand and offer more services,” he said. “I think that what we have right now is really good and everything has been really successful so far.”

Connick said the program is funded with a $438,000 per-year grant — renewable for three years — provided by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.

The Lynn Behavioral Health Intervention Program responds to an overdose. (Spenser Hasak)

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