Program Spotlight: Police Partnerships & Community-Integrated Care

Apr 28, 2023

People Incorporated’s Embedded Mental Health Professional model presents a creative and person-centered solution to the ever-rising number of 911 mental health calls. By embedding licensed social workers into police departments to ride alongside police officers, more people experiencing crisis are able to access the right resources for their recovery. Community-integrated care is the way of the future, and soon, we’ll also have an embedded professional in the Roseville Police Department.

What does community-integrated care mean? People Incorporated was founded in 1969 with the idea that people could be “incorporated” within their communities while they heal from mental illness. It also means our care is embedded into the community – finding people that may otherwise be missed or have not found the support they need from traditional healthcare systems. We’re embedded within schools, police departments, jail systems, local libraries, homeless encampments, and more. In addition, we’re training people who are not mental health professionals (MHPs) to support our neighbors living with mental illness in places where they may encounter someone struggling – librarians, food shelf workers, college campus police, and even bus drivers. Every facet of our community is touched by mental health, and we know that our impact is stronger when we team up with community partners.

People Incorporated first piloted the Embedded Mental Health Professional model back in 2018 with an MHP in SPPD’s mental health unit. This collaboration evolved into a bus-turned office-on-wheels in SPPD’s Community Outreach and Stabilization (COAST) unit. Introduced in early 2021, the COAST vehicle allows a small team of officers and a People Incorporated social worker to connect individuals to resources directly on-site instead of promising a follow-up call weeks after an incident, avoiding putting the individual in a vulnerable limbo.

In 2021, Melissa Reich, one of People Incorporated’s experienced Homeless Outreach workers (photo L to R: Amber Ruth, Melissa Reich), joined the COAST team to provide chemical health assessments and support to people facing challenges with addiction. She is the first Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) to be embedded in a police department.

“My biggest role is to bridge a gap in services, to get people assessments and referrals for care,” said Reich.

Most of the time, Reich works with unsheltered populations. She spends time at Catholic Charities once a week, the downtown St. Paul library twice a week, and another daytime drop-in center once a week. The remainder of her time is spent with an officer going to follow-up visits after overdose calls occur. In all of her work, she works to ensure people experiencing homelessness have positive interactions with police and mental health professionals and get support accessing the care they need.

Her certification as a LADC is unique and crucial to her work as an embedded MHP.

“There isn’t that chemical health piece in a lot of embedded social work models,” said Reich. “It’s hard to get access to a chemical health assessment for people who are mandated by courts, and it’s hard to keep and maintain appointments when there are insurance issues, so this partnership lowers barriers for people.”

Our approach to community-integrated care extends beyond police departments. Sophia Eckmeier is an Access Navigator within People Incorporated’s Central Access Call Center, and she specializes in our partnerships with local jails through the Corrections Integrated Services (CIS) program.

“Some folks are just released into homelessness, and it breaks my heart,” said Eckmeier. “Many of our clients just don’t know where to start with services. And the need is huge – there aren’t a lot of programs out there that are able to go into jails and meet with folks directly.”

Our CIS program currently serves three counties and integrates MHPs into jail systems to collaborate with county staff. On the administrative side, Eckmeier regularly speaks with people who are incarcerated to make referrals to other People Incorporated programs and help them navigate their options for services.

“We’ve noticed that folks aren’t re-offending as often,” said Eckmeier. “We see our clients eventually going back to school, getting stable jobs and housing, and even forming a community with one another. When you walk with people along the way in the process of healing, it does wonders.”

We are thrilled to be expanding our presence in the community with our upcoming collaboration with the Roseville Police Department, a partnership that will take effect this spring and that wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of the Medica Foundation. To support this collaboration and more community-integrated care in the years to come, you can donate to People Incorporated through the Give page on our website. Your support opens infinite doors for those in our community who are struggling with mental illness.