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Gainesville Police has had a mental health clinician for 1 year. These are some of her success stories
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Anjana Freeman, center, Gainesville Police Department's mental health clinician, stands next to a police patrol vehicle with Officer Natalia Ramirez. - photo by Gainesville Police Department

A repeat offender suffering from mental illness and addictive disorder got out of jail and into a residential treatment program.

Instead of putting a woman behind bars for disorderly conduct and causing a Division of Family and Children Services referral for her 1-year-old son, the two were placed with the woman’s mother in Rome where she could attend substance abuse treatment.

Another woman who was found sleeping behind a Hall County business on a mattress was taken to a homeless shelter.

These are some of the success stories Anjana Freeman and the Gainesville Police Department have found in the year since she started as the department’s mental health clinician.

The North Georgia Community Foundation announced a $55,000 grant for GPD in December 2019 to go toward hiring a clinician to create a specialized response to mental health calls in the field.

After a year, Freeman said the program has helped connect 87 people to resources, with 32 of those people reportedly following up with those resources and receiving support.

“Law enforcement and mental health are really interesting juxtaposed careers and cultures,” Freeman said. “We’re both helping professions so ultimately we have the same goal, and maybe we’re on … two different areas of a continuum of what kind of skills we use to reach those goals.”

Since April 2020, Freeman said she has written nine 1013 orders, which the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities defines as a way to “initiate an involuntary mental health evaluation of (a) mental ill person who presents a substantial risk of imminent harm to self or others.”  She was able to provide follow-up services to six of them.

Reflecting on her first year in the new role, Freeman said she believes she accomplished most of the goals she had set for the program’s infancy, though there were barriers, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I first took the job, my plan was to immediately start moving through the community and meeting with various organizations in the community to talk about how they envisioned the program collaborating with them, and I couldn’t do that as easily as I would have otherwise,” she said.

Many meetings were held over Zoom, which was less than ideal, Freeman said. She had set a benchmark of doing weekly ridealongs with officers to get their ideas and feedback, but she was able to go on roughly 15 in this first year.

“What I’ve had even more opportunity to do is just do a lot of following up with families who are struggling finding mental health resources or getting the support that they need and individuals who may not be able to access their medications or people who just don’t have the type of stability that they need to manage their mental health care,” Freeman said. “That tends to be the majority of what I’m doing, and honestly, that’s where I see the most success is in resourcing people.”

Some of her big partners have been Avita Community Partners and Laurelwood, where they worked on streamlining the protocols for people who may require hospitalization and making sure there are follow-up plans when the person is released.

Avita Community Partners is an organization providing counseling support for mental health and addiction in addition to its upcoming behavioral health crisis center, and Laurelwood is a 54-bed inpatient behavioral health facility in Northeast Georgia Health System.

Freeman said another “amazing resource” for the department has been the Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Recovery Center, or J’s Place.

“I’ve sent more people than I can count to them to get support,” Freeman said.

J’s Place, which was named for a 21-year-old Gainesville man who died of an overdose in 2012, opened in February 2019 on Juanita Avenue in Gainesville.

Executive Director Jordan Hussey said a lot of people are looking for housing or help with getting IDs to “start getting back on their feet.”

“What we’re trying to do on our end is partner with people who provide those services and maybe even raise some money to get them what they need, because a lot of these people, especially if they’re homeless, they’ve lost their birth certificate or Social Security card long ago,” Hussey said. “Getting an ID can be very challenging for them. Getting employment because of that is very challenging.”

The United Way of Hall County established the “One Hall United Against Poverty” initiative in 2017 as a multidisciplinary approach to breaking the cyclical nature of poverty.

Reese Daniel, who leads the mental and behavioral health committee along with Dr. Monica Newton, said they are working on a community database that is still a year or more from completion. The intention for the database is to have a system to see where people are receiving care to avoid duplication of resources or letting people fall through the cracks. 

“It’s about everything that they’re doing however they are in the system,” Daniel said. “The only way this will work is if the community is behind it. And what I mean by that is if numerous people are behind and willing to be part of this database.” 

Daniel said the committee is connected to a number of local nonprofits whose representatives have stated they are willing to participate but want to know what the system will look like.

After being on the “One Hall” board with Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish, Hussey was connected with Freeman to discuss J’s Place current services and how they could be of assistance.

“If nothing else, we can be a referral source for people and just take some of the work off of her, off of GPD,” Hussey said. “That’s a lot to undertake, so I really think that the partnerships are just important so that one person isn’t carrying the load or even one organization isn’t carrying the load by themselves.”

Freeman wrote a synopsis of her work for Parrish that he provided as an update to the city council on the program. 

Other success stories from this update included a man requiring medications for “intensifying anxiety and paranoia” who couldn’t get psychiatric care over a holiday weekend.

“I provided phone support each day and checked in to make sure he was safe until I could arrange an appointment for a psychiatric evaluation,” Freeman wrote.

Another case concerned providing support to a young girl with autism who was having a panic attack following a minor traffic incident.

“She went from having a panic attack to calmly talking about her ‘cowgirl’ boots,” Freeman wrote.

Freeman said she enjoys the dynamics and creativity of trying to collaborate with the community to find the best help possible for those suffering from mental health disorders.

Looking to their second year, Freeman said they have secured a grant to hire a paid intern for May through September. One of the projects the intern will be working on is a collaboration concerning Hall County Jail inmates for those incarcerated on minor offenses and ineligible for Hall County’s mental health accountability court known as Health Empowerment Linkage and Possibilities Court.

“So when they are released, they have a plan,” Freeman said. “They have a plan for rehabilitation if that’s something they are willing to do. They have shelter. They have potentially mental health care set up. We’re hoping that we can decrease recidivism through that route.”

In her update to Parrish, Freeman wrote that Hall County inmates “whose offenses appear to be resource- or addiction-related often request services after their release when my interns and I visit and discuss their future plans.”

Freeman said they are in the process of doing training with the officers over five or six stints to work on protocols concerning a 1013 order and referring cases to her for followup.

She said she will be trying to make a bigger push for regular and deeper collaboration with community partners, hoping to provide a “safety net” for those people having trouble reaching resources or suffering from mental health issues.

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