St. Mary’s County, MD, Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster and Wyoming Highway Patrol Administrator Col. Tim Cameron brought their message about how different homeland security disciplines can collaborate on community public health and public safety initiatives during a Center for Homeland Defense and Security Executive Leaders Program session on May 17.
In a session entitled “Public Safety and Public Health: Collaborating at the Local Level,” the two ELP alums presented the framework of a series of initiatives they worked on together, including some with the county’s Superintendent of Public Schools, Scott Smith.
Cameron (ELP cohort 0901), the former four-term St. Mary’s County Sheriff, said he had never actually met the County Health Officer before meeting and collaborating with Brewster (ELP cohort 2102), who was the Ellen Gordon Award recipient for her cohort, after she arrived in St. Mary’s County in 2012 and she and her office became a “key resource” in the county’s battle against substance abuse.
Cameron and Brewster drew closer during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Brewster said Cameron’s leadership as a law enforcement official “set the tone” for the county’s collaborative response, calling him a “forward-leaning leader” who prioritized community and first responder safety.
Cameron actually encouraged Brewster to apply for the CHDS ELP, which she and her cohort began during the pandemic.
Brewster recounted that she had personally vaccinated Cameron at the start of the COVID-19 vaccination administration effort, admitting that she was nervous since it had been more than a few years since she had vaccinated anyone. Cameron joked that he would have been nervous himself if he’d known about Brewster’s lack of recent vaccination experience and called himself the “blue canary”—first responder slang for a law enforcement officer at the scene of an accident involving hazardous materials.
Their collaboration extended to work on the St. Mary’s County Equity Task Force, which created the “Joint Resolution on Equity” and prompted a series of major collaborative initiatives across public safety, public health, and education.
Those included cooperative efforts involving behavioral health and the criminal justice system; health care access in public schools; a nexus for addressing social determinants; and addressing community violence.
A series of projects and initiatives emerged from the core equity initiative, including:
- A community corrections center offering non-violent offenders involved with the criminal justice system expanded access to behavioral health evaluation and treatment, including mental health and substance use disorders, as well as continued medical and behavioral health services to detention center and pre-trial release populations, and a variety of community partners collaborating to “address gaps in health care, education, and other life needs in order to support meaningful rehabilitation and mitigate factors contributing to crime.”
- School-based health centers offering access for students to urgent care and primary care services, as well as nutrition education and sports physicals, covered by public and private insurance with a sliding scale charge for the uninsured, and promising a high rate of student return to the classroom after visits and allowing parents to remain at work.
- A county Health Hub offering behavioral health crisis walk-in services, harm reduction services, day reporting program services, criminal justice diversion, primary care clinic, youth mentoring, COVID-19 testing and vaccination, conflict resolution, and legal services.
- Implementation of the sequential intercept model, including crisis intervention training, crisis care continuum and harm reduction, law enforcement assisted diversion, crisis intervention and co-responder program, pre-trial release, drug court, and collaborations for community re-entry and ongoing case management.
- Community resilience efforts through improving healthcare access, behavioral health infrastructure, social determinants of health, food security, youth resilience, and violence prevention and mitigation.
- Telehealth centers, social wellness assessments, connecting people to community services through the WellCheck digital referral program, an online food access portal, preventing adverse childhood experiences, building youth resilience, and community violence prevention including a youth gun violence task force.
Brewster argued that it makes “fiscal sense” to address the “underlying causes of crime” and community inequities through “alternative solutions” rather than simply continuing the cycle of incarceration, release, and reengagement with law enforcement, while Cameron called his work on equity “absolutely the most satisfying part of my law enforcement career” and encouraged the ELP participants to seek collaboration and interaction with others in the classroom, including those from different disciplines.