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  • Nov 30, 2022

CHA Awarded Funding from Suicide Prevention Project That Will Link Healthcare and Criminal Justice Systems

Validate Best Practices from the Cambridge Police

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) and the Cambridge Police Department today announced their participation in a new and innovative national research center designed to help individuals at risk for suicide. The National Center for Health and Justice Integration for Suicide Prevention Center, which involves more than 100 stakeholders, 30 investigators and more than a dozen institutions, is being funded by a $15 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

The Cambridge project is one of four projects in the Center that will first assess data from the Cambridge Police, CHA, and Middlesex Sheriff's Office to evaluate health and criminal justice outcomes of the city's most vulnerable populations. The Center will also evaluate the Cambridge Police Department's Family and Social Justice Section (FSJS) and other innovative interventions to divert individuals with mental health challenges from incarceration and other criminal justice system involvement.

The project will also assess the impact of adding a "Systems Navigator" position to the Family and Social Justice Section. This person will work with the Cambridge Police Department and emergency departments at CHA and Mt. Auburn Hospital to conduct rapid mental health and suicide risk assessment and to help police and healthcare staff link individuals to needed services and ensure a continuum of care.

In 2018, the Cambridge Police developed the Family and Social Justice Section, which utilizes a multi-system intervention that is focused on diverting police-involved individuals in mental health crisis from the justice system into the mental health system. Police officers are trained in mental health first aid and trauma-informed policing, linking community and healthcare services, and following up on mental health-related calls with a police department-based case management approach using a team of specialty mental health resource officers and mental health clinicians via an integrated Clinical Support Unit. The intensive case management provided by police staff and their collaboration with the Emergency Department and community providers in connecting persons with services and diverting them from jail is unique, as it fills a gap in service provision where many criminal legal system-involved individuals living with mental illness can slip between criminal justice, emergency services, and inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services.

"There continues to be a need for proven methods and processes by which law enforcement can collaborate with health services systems to reduce their footprint in responding to mental health crises and to divert individuals in crisis with serious mental illness who are at high risk of suicide," said Benjamin Lê Cook, PhD, MPH, Director of the Health Equity Research Lab at CHA and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "This line of research has important public health significance. By integrating multiple systems of care (health care and police), this intervention has the potential to improve police response, clinical care, and coordination across multiple community sectors with the aim to mitigate suicide in a high-risk justice population."

"If validated, the results of this study could provide important evidence on how to both reduce recidivism, improve access to care for the most vulnerable, and serve as a potential template for other police departments to utilize and adapt to the scale and scope of their work," said Cambridge Police Commissioner Christine Elow. "Most importantly, the work could go a long way in preventing suicides in places where that risk is notably high."

In addition to CHA, the award includes funds for 14 institutions, including:

  • Addiction Policy Forum
  • Brown University
  • Butler Hospital
  • CareSource Ohio, Inc.
  • Columbia University
  • George Mason University
  • HealthPartners Institute
  • Henry Ford Health
  • Michigan State University
  • Mount Auburn Hospital
  • Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
  • Wayne State University
  • Education Development Center
  • University of Pennsylvania

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