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Creating a Full-time Police Social Worker Position is Improving Behavioral Health Care Access for Residents

A recent innovative cross-sector model, supported by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, provided a full-time social worker position within the Newaygo Police Department. This role offers support to community members facing a behavioral health crisis and officers responding to situations addressing complex behavioral health needs.

Two individuals in conversation, one comforting the other.

Many residents throughout Michigan don’t have equitable access to the behavioral health care they need due to complexities in navigating entry to treatment.

According to the 2022 Behavioral Health Access Study, conducted by Altarum with support from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, nearly one-third of individuals with any mental illness and more than two-thirds of people experiencing substance use disorder (SUD) go untreated.

The Health Fund’s Behavioral Health Initiative aims to improve access to high-quality mental health and SUD care for Michigan residents with an emphasis on children and older adults.

“There’s an incredible demand that isn’t being met in behavioral health. All of our grantmaking in this space is focused on improving access through different priority areas,” Becky Cienki, director of Behavioral Health & Special Projects at the Health Fund, said.

According to Cienki, some of the areas of focus for the Health Fund’s initiative relate to innovative care delivery models, where and how care is delivered, and multi-sector responses.

“Behavioral health is a challenging system to navigate for everyone. We know that many of our most effective projects are ones that include different sectors,” Cienki said.

For example, Cienki shared that the Health Fund’s focus within the substance use space has been on addressing how people get connected to care when they first present with SUDs, looking at ways that systems such as law enforcement, jails, first responders, emergency departments and others work with individuals to get them to care.

In a recent blog post, the Health Fund shared one example of an innovative project that is benefitting from grant support to help community members in a behavioral health crisis.

Nicole Klomp, Newaygo Police Department Social Worker

Last year, the Health Fund supported Arbor Circle, a West Michigan-based behavioral health agency, to establish a full-time police social worker position within the Newaygo Police Department.

Prior to this project, Nicole Klomp, a licensed, Masters-level clinical social worker, began volunteering with the Newaygo Police Department, over time creating procedures to formalize and facilitate a full-time program in partnership with Arbor Circle and with support from the Health Fund.

Now in a full-time position, Klomp supports community members who come to the police station for help, travels with police officers on dispatch calls, provides referrals, case management and ongoing support, and offers a supportive presence for officers and other department employees. She also has expanded her focus to include additional agencies in townships surrounding Newaygo.

Dan Trudeau, senior communications officer at the Health Fund, shared that during a site visit with the social worker and police department staff, he learned more about the implementation of the project. 

“It was impressive to see how Nicole had gone from being a volunteer to someone who was working cooperatively alongside the police force, trusted by the officers, and recognized as a resource within the community,” Trudeau said.

According to Trudeau, as the police department began to work in collaboration with Nicole, they saw the benefits to the community and valued the added capacity to help officers respond to situations addressing complex behavioral health needs that they may not have had the training to effectively manage.

Cienki shared that this project has helped people gain entry to treatment, an essential step in breaking the cycle of people becoming incarcerated due to untreated behavioral health conditions.

“We shouldn’t have so many individuals incarcerated because they are unable to access behavioral health services. If we can break that cycle by getting people entry to treatment more effectively, that’s really the overarching concern,” Cienki said.

The innovative model is producing meaningful benefits for Newaygo’s residents, offering a model for other communities to consider and a successful example of collaboration and cross-sector partnerships.

“I think there are tremendous opportunities for counties to save funding by not holding individuals in jail and instead reinvesting those dollars towards embedding a social worker to address behavioral health crises,” Cienki said.

As the Health Fund reported, this project is a successful example of two sectors finding common ground to break down barriers, prevent behavioral health crises and increase access to timely support.

Cienki says multi-sector partnerships like this one help address the number of challenges that exist for people accessing behavioral health services.

“With multi-sector partnerships, those other systems can help people begin to navigate the complexities in accessing care, but it’s also about providing care where people are, whether that be in a school or in foster care. If we can work together to make sure those organizations are prepared and have the capacity to provide treatment, that is important,” Cienki said.

Want more?

Read the Health Fund’s full blog post.

Learn more about the Health Fund’s Behavioral Health Initiative.