BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township and its officials are exploring new ways of helping others, if a recent presentation by an Ocean County group is any indicator.
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora, Stafford Township Police Chief Thomas Dellane and On P.O.I.N.T. Coordinator Meghan Corrigan spoke to the Bridgewater Township Council about the On P.O.I.N.T. Program. They explained how it can best assist law enforcement with getting treatment for those citizens and other individuals who may be mentally ill and/or abusing substances, or who suffer repeated domestic situations.
Dellane said the program has saved his department about 700 police hours, particularly with regard to law enforcement officials making repeat visits to troubled residences.
“(We’re) increasing service to the citizens and people who come through our town,” he said. “It’s very valuable.”
On P.O.I.N.T. stands for “Proactive Outreach in Needs and Treatment.” It partners Ocean Mental Health Services with the Stafford Township Police Department, and provides on-site social workers to Stafford police officers two days a week. The program was initiated to address the high volume of mental health, substance abuse and social service related calls and incidents that would otherwise take up a great deal of police and emergency response time.
Corrigan said she worked for a screening center in Ocean County, which serves individuals on a 24-hour, seven-day basis. She explained how the language that social workers speak is totally different from that of police officers, complete with different jargon and acronyms.
“I told the chief to hire me full time,” she said.
She said the purpose of the On P.O.I.N.T. program is to apply social workers to situations where they can figure out why repeat calls are being made to police, be it drug abuse, mental health issues or domestic disputes.
“We work with identifying clients, on where to intervene,” said Corrigan.
She added that a primary purpose of the program is follow-through. She said that police officers did go out, and did listen to people who were having difficulties, but that those patrons didn’t necessarily follow up themselves, including with medications or appointments, especially when they had little money or no viable means of transportation.
“We can help,” said Corrigan. “It’s what social workers do.”
She added that such individuals were especially vulnerable after they had been discharged from medical or psychiatric care.
“It can be very frustrating to navigate the system,” said Corrigan, who added that the system proved difficult at times for social workers. “People get discouraged.”
Corrigan said individuals have actually had someone from the program drive them to social services, including a woman who couldn’t drive herself due to seizures. She also said that there are no limits to the program, currently.
Concerning On P.O.I.N.T.’s opioid addiction program, Corrigan said police meet with the individuals involved first, check on any outstanding warrants and then take those individuals for treatment. Social workers follow up for support, and to keep people stable for the community’s sake.
Bridgewater Council President Christine Henderson Rose asked about the mental health structure in Ocean County. Corrigan said there are short-term care and detox facilities in Toms River, along with Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus in Lakewood, plus an outpatient office in Brick.
Corrigan also said that the state is running into a shortage of psychiatrists, with not as many of them entering the profession these days. She also said there is a three- to six-month wait for some mental health services, and mentioned the Ocean-CREST mental health program and its seven-day walk-in facility, where patients can see a prescriber in two weeks time.
Ocean-CREST allows families to bring in a troubled member for help, or allows individuals to show up on their own, although not all counties offer the same services.
Dellane added that the goal of the voluntary On P.O.I.N.T. program is to help people before their situation evolves into a crisis.
Bridgewater Council Vice President Matthew Moench asked if an officer referred a case to On P.O.I.N.T., who would then make contact with the individual or family in question, especially if they didn’t want to participate in the program. In those cases, he was told that Corrigan would call those individuals, talk to them on-site, or send a referral form via e-mail.
Moench was also told that the best way to get in touch with someone is usually by phone, although in more serious cases, an in-person visit to the person’s home might be necessary.
Concerning program costs, Dellane reiterated that social workers visit the police twice a week, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The total annual cost is about $78,000, with that figure actively offset by grants, forfeiture accounts and other sources.
“We’ve managed to cobble things together,” he said, with this year’s program costs subsequently lowered to about $30,000. “We’re shaking some trees.”
The state government is also expected to introduce legislation soon, to designate On P.O.I.N.T. as a model program.
Dellane said he has spent 32 years in law enforcement, and he has come to see the value of the program to Stafford Township residents. He added it has made police officers’ jobs better, while also providing a service to the community.
Rose asked who exactly employed the On P.O.I.N.T. staff, and Dellane said that it was Corrigan who provided supervision. Her office was located next to those of the screeners, and (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) restrictions also do not apply.
“The program rolls into different things,” he said.
Rose then inquired about case management and intervention, and Corrigan responded that On P.O.I.N.T. staff is provided with training, with the eventual goal of expanding individual therapy services, along with consultation and training to police officers. Periodic briefings are currently being held, in the hope of providing direct assistance to police officers if necessary.
Moench asked about the community response, and Spodofora said it has been excellent. He also said that Dellane and Corrigan had provided him with the nuts and bolts of the program.
“The numbers don’t tell the whole story,” said Spodofora. “It’s about avoiding bigger problems.”
He added that Stafford Township is a municipality situated right on the coast, and with a population of about 29,000 people. He added that the program works because it has such phenomenal people running and serving in it.
He also said that he had been skeptical about it at first, much like Dellane, and then saw the great things that were being accomplished for people who were in great need, and who were also appreciative of the assistance provided.
Spodofora also said that On P.O.I.N.T. has improved the morale of the town’s police officers, and how to fix problems so they aren't dispatched over and over again to the same problem households.
“I encourage you to look at the program in more depth,” he said.
Corrigan said officers don't have the capacity to carry everything they might need at once, to handle every possible type of situation, so she devised a flow chart, plus a binder of resources they can utilize. Dellane added that his officers also got regular feedback, including what has transpired with referrals, to let them know if the program has been in contact with the individuals involved.