By Anne O'Connor
PEPPERELL -- A new program aims to prevent people from going to jail.
In 10 small towns under the Ayer District Court, people with mental health and substance abuse can get help finding treatment options through COIN, the Community Outreach Initiative Network.
Two mental health clinicians from Family Continuity, a private, nonprofit mental health and social service agency, reach out to people in need of services. Most are identified by the local police departments. Some call for assistance.
Clinicians Ayon Bose or Laurie Irvine usually meet with people at the police station or over the phone. They are able to suggest options that the client's insurance will cover.
They also serve as consultants to the local police departments, meeting with them regularly.
A service gap exists, Irvine said. When a patient is released from an acute-care hospital, like the recently opened TaraVista Behavioral Health in Devens, there might be no safety net. No one checks to see if the newly-released patient is getting the ongoing treatment that was suggested.
"We can do that follow-up," Irvine said.
"The need for help is so great," Irvine said. "There's just so many."
Pepperell Police Chief David Scott began working to have mental health clinicians available several years ago. He saw a need.
"A lot of times, the people we think are the bad guys need help," Scott said.
He found that a collaboration would be more likely than a single department to get grant money. COIN, which includes local police departments, Family Continuity and other mental health advocates, was born.
The chief was right. The collaboration received a grant of $30,000 per year for three years from the state Department of Mental Health to fund one clinician for 12 hours a week. The grant can be extended an additional five years.
Hours for a second clinician are funded by anonymous donations. Through TADS, Teenage Anxiety and Depression Solutions, someone donated $22,500. More recently, another donor gave $5,000.
COIN is phasing in towns. It began in September with Pepperell, Townsend and Ashby. In March, it expanded to Ayer and Shirley.
The two remaining towns in the collaborative are Groton and Dunstable, Scott said.
COIN is run out of the Pepperell Police Station. They can be reached at 508-488-5072.
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