Bucks County to Expand Mental Health Co-Advocate Program to 2 Cities
A Bucks County program that aims to provide residents with support and services beyond police response to mental health and addiction emergencies is growing.
Late last year, the county launched the Bensalem Co-Advocate Program with the goal of providing residents with the help they might need beyond an initial 911 call. Under the two-year pilot program, two co-counselors, who are certified social workers, respond to a variety of calls, including those relating to aging issues and those often rooted in mental health and addiction issues.
The co-sponsor program is one of several new police initiatives in Bucks County that came amid a nationwide discussion sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a then policeman. that he was in detention in Minneapolis in May 2020.
The Bucks program began with a partnership with the Bensalem Police Department last year.
Last week County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia announced that the county had received a state grant of $ 424,000 which it will use to expand the program to Middletown and Falls. The grant was provided through the state office of mental health and addiction services.
In the months since its inception, the program has been successful, officials said. Bensalem’s director of public safety Fred Harran said the two co-responders had made 160 different contacts since the start of the year.
âThey are doing an incredible job,â he said.
Harran noted that in a period before the co-responders started, a resident had called the police 26 times. During the same period after starting, this person only called five times.
âWe now have that happy medium between emergency response and long-term mental health care,â he said.
âIt meets the demand of the community,â Marseglia said.
Harran said residents with mental health issues who had previously called police are now calling co-responders for help, allowing officers to do other things.
âIt’s a win-win all around,â he said.
The co-respondents start in Bensalem:Social workers join Bensalem police to respond to calls from social and mental health services
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With the new grant, the county is able to hire two more co-sponsors who will work in Falls and Middletown. The two will work in tandem between the two cantons, according to Marseglia. One will be based in each department.
“We have a lot of contact on a daily basis with people with mental health issues and the pandemic has only exacerbated that,” Falls Chief Nelson Whitney said. “So now is a great time to put in place a program to try to help.”
He said that since Falls and Middletown are so close, it makes sense that the two co-speakers could work together.
âThey will be free to collaborate with each other and work together,â he said.
In Falls, the county also implemented a recovery specialist program that brought two specialists into the department to help people with substance abuse issues in the township.
Whitney said there is an overlap between the co-sponsor model and the Recovery Specialist program, and expects the two to work together to some extent.
âI think these co-responder models are going to be more and more popular because they provide additional tools that law enforcement doesn’t have,â he said.
Rachel Neff, county social services director, said Falls and Middletown were chosen because Whitney and Middletown chief Joseph Bartorilla had expressed interest in joining.
Bartorilla said the co-sponsors will be a valuable resource for the department. The Middletown chief said that with the co-respondents, the department will have an internal referral for officers to call social services.
âIt always helps to have someone in-house to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks, as is sometimes the case when social services are needed,â he said. “I hope that will prevent this from happening.”
The co-speakers at Bensalem, Rachel Agosto and Walter Bynum, have laid the groundwork for the two new positions and will likely help them when they start.
âMiddletown and Falls are the next logical steps for this program to help people in their community as well,â said Harran.
The hope right now is to fill the positions this fall, according to Neff.
“We are definitely receiving applications,” she said, adding that the interview process should begin next month.
Marseglia said she hopes the program grows over the next year, depending on funding.
“I would like to get it in at least three or four other departments,” she said.
Funding for co-sponsors in Bensalem and future co-sponsors in Falls and Middletown is two years. Marseglia said she hopes that after that, ministries see the value of the program and fund it themselves.
She urged all other interested local departments to join in contacting the county.
Other Bucks County Police Initiatives
- Bucks County Police Assisting in Recovery, or BPAIR, which was started by Bensalem Police, is a program that allows people to visit participating police departments to connect and help with substance abuse issues. More than a dozen Bucks County police departments participate in the program. More information can be found at www.bcdac.org
- Falls Police have started having two âco-responderâ recovery specialists to accompany officers on overdose and addiction calls. The program, funded by a grant from the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission, allows specialists to connect those in need of help with the appropriate treatment services and provide follow-up as needed.
- Central Bucks Regional Police have established a Victims Specialist Unit, which consists of two people who assist victims of crime through the criminal justice system. Doylestown Township Police, Plumstead Police and Buckingham Police also participate in the program.
- Plumstead Police have a program called the Supporting Treatment and Recovery Program, or STAR, which allows officers to refer people in need of substance abuse help to the Aldie Counseling Center in Doylestown. Buckingham Police, Central Bucks Regional Police, Doylestown Township Police, New Hope Police and Solebury Police all participate in the program.