Winthrop Leads the Way With CLEAR Program

By Adam Swift

Nearly a decade ago, Winthrop’s public health and public safety programs began working together to provide better mental health and substance abuse resources for the town’s residents.

The program, now known as CLEAR (Community and Law Enforcement Assistance Recovery) program, has become a model for communities throughout the state and the country.

At last week’s community fall forum, Meredith Hurley, the town’s Public Health Nurse, updated the community on the history and goals of the program.

“Back in 2014, I personally had never heard the phrase ‘police reform’ at that point, but that is really when public health aligned with public safety,” said Hurley. “As a result of the opioid epidemic, we were seeing a lot of loss in the community and we were concerned about that.”

Hurley began conversations with the police and fire chiefs at the time to try to determine different strategies to deal with the epidemic.

“We started with looking at the high rates of fatal and nonfatal opioid overdoses, and public health and public safety came together and formed our collaboration,” said Hurley.

At that early stage, she said the collaboration allowed for a police officer to knock on doors along with a peer recovery coach at homes following overdoses.

“The peer recovery coach is somebody with lived experience who works (with someone with substance abuse issues) to take them down the path of recovery,” said Hurley. “It can look many different ways, it can be harm reduction, it can be giving Narcan so they or a family member can have it in the house for safety.”

As the partnership progressed, the public health department received a grant to hire a part-time social worker who worked with public safety on a jail diversion program.

“What we really want to do is keep people out of the emergency system,” said Hurley. “We don’t want to see people in jail and we don’t want to see people in emergency rooms. That’s what it really boils down to.”

Recent good news for the CLEAR program has included a licensed clinician trained in de-escalation working with the police department, and nearly all police officers having been trained in the crisis intervention team model. Hurley said the goal is to also train the town’s firefighters on the model.

Hurley said the program has also been able to pivot from the earlier opioid-intensive model to address other mental health and substance issues in the town.

“In Winthrop, alcohol was a bigger issue and continues to be a bigger issue, a bigger substance that we are concerned about, so it felt funny for (us) to tell somebody we would love to work with you, but you are not a heroin user so we cannot because of our funding,” said Hurley. 

The CLEAR program was able to address its funding in order to serve a wider variety of issues in the town, she said.

The program continued to grow and grow, and when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Hurley said the town had many resources in place to help deal with the pandemic itself, as well as the many mental health challenges associated with it.

“The CLEAR team has been pivoting and pivoting and pivoting with the needs of the community, and that is really where the success has been with this program,” Hurley said.

The latest highlights of the program include a police lieutenant assigned to the health department and increased resources to deal with domestic violence.

“CLEAR is on the cutting edge because we have been doing things that are now emerging as best practices,” said Hurley. With that increased visibility has come more opportunities for grant funding to expand the program even more, including a partnership with the Boston University School of Public Health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.