De-escalation is Her Specialty

Heather Messer, a Crisis Services Clinician at our Gateway Community Behavioral Health Center (CBHC) in Chicopee, is part of a co-response partnership, which provides a crisis clinician who is available to respond with police officers to mental health-related calls for service.

“The overarching goal of co-response is to reduce the utilization of 911 for mental health related situations by connecting individuals with appropriate supports and services in their community, to aid in de-escalation, and divert from unnecessary ER visits or arrests,” said Messer. “What the CBHC is doing with several of the local police departments is providing them with a dedicated clinician that accompany officers to mental health 911 calls if we’re on shift, or obtain the information about the call and follow up with those involved afterward.”

The CBHC, which also houses CHD’s crisis services, has a specific entrance for police officers to transport an individual in crisis for evaluation, as opposed to sending them via ambulance to the hospital for the same purpose. Messer works with the Belchertown, Granby, and South Hadley police departments.

Messer said it is fulfilling to give individuals we serve the option of getting those services in their homes or at other locations in the community—thereby increasing access to mental health care and reducing the burden on emergency rooms. So far, this new model of crisis and supportive services, which began in January, is working. “It is nice to feel that you’re effectively doing your job,” she said. “Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them, to give them a pep talk, or to help them access supports and services. Other times, they’re in a space that can’t be safely contained outside of a hospital setting, and I’m okay with helping facilitate that as well, because safety takes priority.”

Messer’s interests have always aligned with the initial assessment process and problem-solving aspects of working with individuals and families. “I’m certainly not an expert in the field, but I feel that I’ve collected a decent variety of work experience that makes me a well-rounded social worker and that I’ve found a niche for myself as a co-responder.”

Her experience includes working for Holyoke Medical Center on its internal behavioral health team for four-and-a-half, years doing everything from crisis assessments to substance use or domestic violence interventions, such as helping get individuals from the hospital into detox facilities or shelters. Prior to that, she worked for Clinical & Support Options (CSO) in Pittsfield and Northampton for nearly six years as a family support worker, intensive care coordinator, and outpatient therapist. Before CSO, she worked in both adolescent and DDS residential programs, as a substance use counselor, and her undergraduate internships were at an alternative school in Pittsfield and an adolescent detox facility in Brockton.

Messer earned an associate degree in Human Services at Berkshire Community College, a BS in Social Work at Bridgewater State University, and an MSW at Westfield State University.

She said the police departments she has been working with since March have made her feel welcomed and appreciated. “I find myself to be quite fortunate to work directly with South Hadley PD’s Officer Cindy Boyle, who is essentially the face of law enforcement’s Crisis Intervention Teams in western Massachusetts, and to have the guidance of Matt Leone, the CBHC’s assistant director, who played a significant role in establishing co-response in this region,” said Messer.

Attention clinicians: the CBHC has open per diem clinician and supervisor positions available in its Crisis Stabilization Units and Mobile Crisis Intervention programs.