Former police substation reopens as mental health resource in Westerly
WESTERLY, R.I. (WLNE) — The Westerly Police Department and community mental health groups gathered Tuesday to cut the ribbon on a new mental health resource for their community.
The repurposed Westerly police subsection, located at 68 Pierce St., will host Gateway Healthcare Services to provide mental health and substance abuse services five days a week.
In the last few years, mental health services have become more and more important, and in communities like Westerly, healthcare officials say mental health emergencies are the number one problem police are responding to.
“I’ve had Gateway at our police department for several years. Gateway provides mental health in town, and we go out on calls with them. I’d say 75% to 80% of our calls are mental health related and the police can’t solve all the problems unfortunately — we try. So we bring the clinicians with us,” Westerly Police Chief Paul Gingerella told ABC 6 News.
When Westerly Town Councilor Mary Scialabba came to Chief Gingerella looking to expand services in the area, she it was a no-brainer.
“I called the police department and I decided to make an appointment with the chief of police and have a meeting with him and see what he can do to help,” Councilor Scialabba said.
“By the end of that meeting, he’s like, ‘I can get you a building. And I can even get you people on a grant to help you.'” Scialabba continued.
Scialabba was struck by a car six years ago, and during her recovery she said she saw firsthand how difficult it was to find mental health resources in her community when she needed them the most.
“This is not costing the town anything for this gift to be given to us, and as far as I’m concerned, this is a partnership. You know, I ask the questions, they’re working with people, and we’re working together because it’s for the overall greater-good and this is just a start. There’s so many legs and so many more things that we’re going to want to do,” Scialabba explained.
The new resource center will be open five days a week, and while hours haven’t been finalized yet, they’re expected to be available on weekday evenings.
Staff told ABC 6 that there’s a real benefit in having their own space away from the police station to help the community.
“Police can be intimidating, and one thing that we’ve noticed is when somebody gets a phone call saying they are having a mental health crisis when police come out, they think they’re in trouble,” said Amy McCarthy, the clinical coordinator at Gateway healthcare.
“When we’re here, it’s a lot less intimidating for the community because we don’t have that police presence,” McCarthy continued.
Gateway hopes to expand its services to dayside coverage as well, and office hours are expected to be finalized within the coming weeks.