Community liaison will collaborate with law enforcement

New position will provide outreach and advocacy
By Fran Gonzalez | Jan 15, 2020
Source: File photo The new community liaison position will collaborate with law enforcement and be based at the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast, pictured, to provide education, outreach, and case management in the areas of opioid and substance abuse disorder and mental illness.

Belfast —

Last fall Penobscot Community Health Care, the state’s largest federally qualified health center, was awarded a million-dollar grant to aid in substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery efforts.

At the Jan. 13 Waldo County Recovery Committee meeting at the Sheriff’s Office, the group discussed a newly created position made possible through the grant.

The community liaison position officially hit job sites Jan. 8 and will be based at the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast.

According to the job description provided by Volunteers of America, the liaison will work collaboratively with law enforcement, providing education, outreach and case management in the areas of opioid and substance abuse disorder and mental illness.

The position will also connect individuals with health and mental health professionals in the community and be responsible for educating members of law enforcement and the public about available recovery resources.

This position calls for a 32-hour work week, with full benefits, and will pay $18 an hour, depending on experience. Besides a substance abuse license (LADC or CADC), a candidate should have a bachelor's degree or four years of equivalent job experience. A licensed social worker or mental health rehabilitation technician is preferred.

Chief Deputy Jason Trundy of the Sheriff’s Office said in his blog, “When crafting the grant application each partner organization had to provide details about how we would utilize any funds we would receive.”

While attending an Opioid Summit last summer in Augusta, Trundy said, he learned about Portland Police Department’s Behavioral Health Response Program, which is based on a comprehensive police-mental health collaboration. The program consists of trained and experienced civilian behavioral health and substance use liaisons who co-respond with Portland police officers to the scenes of calls that involve substance use, overdoses, or mental health crises.

“I recall thinking during the presentation about how valuable this type of partnership would be for our community,” Trundy said. “When the word came that we received the grant our conversations kicked into high gear, and with many details to be worked out, the planning began.

“The Sheriff’s Office, Volunteers of America and the folks at PCHC began working out the details, crafting budgets and job descriptions and pulling together all the loose ends to make the Waldo County Community Liaison position come to life,” he said.

Sheriff Jeffery Trafton said he is excited about the liaison position and to have the option to offer alternatives to incarceration. Trafton also noted, “With Ray’s (Maj. Ray Porter, unified corrections administrator for Knox and Waldo counties) comprehensive management of jail population, the population has dropped. This is very positive and we’re hoping this (new position) will add to the drop in the jail population.”

Trafton said this position will “let us better handle issues instead of taking somebody to jail because the only mental health facility is the Waldo County Jail. It shouldn't be that way….”

Mary-Beth Leone-Thomas, director of the recovery program at Seaport Community Health Center, said with this new position, people can be connected to resources so they can change their lives, “instead of putting them in jail.”

She noted Seaport Community Health is a “low-barrier” provider, accepting anyone who comes through the door. “You don’t need an appointment,” she said, “and we don’t turn anyone away.”

Shelley Lobdell, PCHC project manager for the grant, said the goal is to use the funds as start-up money and find ways to sustain it. “Once we get the program up and running,” she said, “we will try to raise funds through other supports." Ultimately, she hopes the program will treat enough clients to be self-sustaining.

Dr. Tim Hughes of Seaport Community Health Center said he has worked with groups on medication-assisted treatment since 2004. Currently, he is helping approximately 180 people manage their recovery in the Belfast area. “It’s telling,” he said. “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re just trying to save lives.

“We need to start talking about it as a community,” he said, “rather than just law enforcement.”

In his blog, Trundy said, “When I first heard about the Portland co-responder program, I thought it would be highly unlikely that we could get such a program started in Waldo County.

“Now, just a few months later, we are taking the first steps to make this position a reality. We realize this position won’t enable us to resolve every situation or problem we encounter moving forward, but we do believe it’s our responsibility to utilize every available resource to provide professional and compassionate law enforcement services to the citizens of Waldo County.”

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