Crisis Response Program Adds Peer Supporter | News, Sports, Jobs

SALEM — Salem police officers added a new crisis response tool last year by introducing a peer helper, someone who can relate to drug users and offer help.

“We are very excited about the program” Salem Police Chief JT Panezott said.

Salem served as a pilot site for the Columbiana County Mobile Crisis Response Team program and it is now expanding into the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office and the County Drug Task Force.

The idea was a collaboration of the Salem Police Department, Columbiana County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services, Columbiana County Counseling Center, Salem Regional Medical Center, On Demand which provides the Northeast Ohio Peer Helper and Help Network.

Lori Colian, director of treatment and support services for the Columbiana County Board of Mental and Recovery Services, said the concept was to pair law enforcement with a social worker.

The state began holding crisis academies to explore crisis response options in early 2020 before COVID-19 hit the region and Colian entered into discussions with Panezott.

“The state is really pushing this mobile support in times of crisis,” she said, noting that they want to divert people from spending a lot of time in emergency rooms.

She said their mobile crisis response team of co-workers had started talking about what they could do, involving On Demand and the peer helper. The SRMC provided space for a crisis intervention centre, a comfortable room outside the emergency room where the peer helper could talk with people.

Several Salem police officers completed Crisis Response Team training in April.

The peer helper started last year on a part-time basis, accompanying Salem police officers and talking with them, building trust. While the police are dealing with a substance abuse situation, they can take the person to meet the peer helper or bring the peer helper to the scene.

In some cases, the peer support worker was able to organize immediate treatment, with at least two people leaving the premises directly for treatment.

“He helped us understand that these people are going to do it at their own pace when they’re ready,” said Panezot.

People are opening up and the drug community has been notified, with some people asking to speak with the peer support worker, who is where he is and has been in recovery for several years now.

He is now working full-time this year, and Panezott said the program is expanding this year to cover not just substance abuse, but also people having a mental health crisis. He was also able to help with homelessness cases, helping find beds for people who showed up in the lobby looking for help.

“Mental health is a huge issue right now,” said Panezot. “We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to the problem.”

He said he likes this new program and said they have had some success.

“Associating a social worker with a police officer is a good idea. Sending social workers alone to do police work is suicidal. he said.

Colian said they started small, noting there weren’t many mobile crisis response units. Overall, she said she thinks it’s a good program.

“The hope would be that we would expand this to the whole county,” she said.

The Peer Supporter will always respond with law enforcement, not alone, for their safety.

Colian said there aren’t many certified peer support workers, so if anyone who has been in recovery is interested in taking training to become certified, they can contact Maureen Waybright, CCMHRSB’s recovery coordinator, at 330-424-0195.

Colian said she hopes they can have a second person for the program, preferably a mental health peer helper.

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