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City councilors OK funding for KPD social worker position
Keene Sentinel - 11/18/2023
Nov. 17—City Councilors unanimously approved funding for a social worker position within the Keene Police Department Thursday, a role in which the employee would work closely with people suffering from substance use disorders and connect them with treatment.
City Manager Elizabeth Dragon requested city councilors OK the appropriation of $52,850, which will fund the position for half a year. The money will come from financial reserves tied to opioid settlement money.
With the council's decision, City Councilor Thomas Powers said the city will be able to begin advertising and looking for a suitable candidate. "We'll be moving some money around for probably one of the best projects we could ever get ourselves involved in," he said prior to the vote.
Dragon said that the employee will have an annual salary of $67,995.
Opioids were involved in roughly 75 percent of nearly 107,000 drug overdose deaths recorded nationwide in 2021, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the Granite State, New Hampshire'sOffice of the Chief Medical Examiner reports there were at least 463 drug-related deaths in 2022.
The high number of opioid-related deaths in the country led to national lawsuits against drug companies, which many states including New Hampshire joined. Using money from consumer protection settlements or judgments against opioid manufactures, 23 New Hampshire communities, Keene and Cheshire County included, are receiving multiyear payments to support programs associated with the prevention, treatment and recovery of substance use disorders.
Back in April, Dragon said the social worker would specialize in "crucial follow-up," and would be able to connect residents suffering from issues of mental health or substance use disorder with proper services, ultimately helping to reduce recidivism rates.
"The social worker would provide support with navigating the oftentimes difficult and confusing process of coordinating care or recovery, and doing all possible to ensure the client follows through with their treatment or recovery plan," she said at the time.
She added the employee would also coordinate work with local agencies and child and family support services such as Monadnock Family Services, The Doorway at Keene and the Division of Child and Families and School Administrative Unit 29.
So far, Keene has collected about $115,000 from the opioid settlements, and Dragon expects the city to receive about $40,000 to $50,000 annually for approximately 17 years.
At a Nov. 9 meeting of the City Council'sFinance, Organization and Personnel Committee, Dragon told members that the social worker will follow up with people who may have had run-ins with police officers responding to drug-related calls. While the social worker won't be patrolling alongside police officers, Dragon has said they will follow up afterward with potential clients in the company of an officer. The social worker will then connect them to treatment or other services they may need.
Dragon added that while one goal is to provide aid to people with substance use disorders, another is to decrease the likelihood of future involvement with the police.
"The hope is twofold, to help that person and to reduce return visits to help the same individual," she said at the FOP meeting.
Although Thursday's decision was unanimous, Councilor Bobby Williams has previously stated concerns over the social worker's affiliation with the police department. At a March 23 meeting when the concept was introduced, he said he would rather the social worker collaborate with the fire department or emergency medical services.
"No disrespect to our police department, I think they do a great job, but substance users have a great deal of fear of police and there's going to be a barrier if this position is associated with police," he said.
Following the council's decision, Williams told The Sentinel that he still has concerns about the position but declined to comment further.
Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8546, or email@example.com.
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