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Avoiding Malpractice Tips

Social Workers Instead of Police – a New Risk Paradigm?

Aug 22, 2020 | Avoiding Malpractice Tip

Social Workers Instead of Police – a New Risk Paradigm?

The social work profession is indeed a noble one, founded on service, integrity, and clinical expertise. At times, it can be a stressful and hazardous occupation. The nation is grateful for what you do, thank you!

This article shares some brief research about the growing trend that shifts some police risk to the social workers and shares some detail regarding how the NASW Risk Retention Group insures its practitioner policyholders for bodily injury and damages sustained by its practitioners.

There is increasing dialogue in many cities and states regarding introducing new and various service models in responding to emergency calls based on replacing police to some degree, with social workers in certain situations. Not a new idea as consideration for it has been around since the 1960s.

According to Scottie Andrew/Los Angeles CNN, 7/4/2020; (see www.winknews.com); in 1989, the Eugene, Oregon Police Department in conjunction with local government, created a new holistic program called CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) program with the White Board Clinic social services center. This criminal justice program passes off some responsibilities to unarmed civilians through a 911 call triage process. When a 911 call is received, the dispatcher filters the request to determine the situation.

The dispatcher refers violent and criminal issues immediately to the police. The remaining calls arise from substance abuse crises, psychotic episodes, homeless residents, depressed children, perhaps with the 911 call placed by a neighbor, and suicide threats. Typically, the responding van-based team includes a medic (EMT or nurse), and a behavioral health crisis responder, or a social worker. According to Eugene’s self-reported data for 2019, CAHOOTS workers responded to 24,000 calls amounting to 20% of all 911 calls. Of the 24,000 emergency 911 calls that CAHOOTS responded to, 150 required immediate police backup due to violence and criminal behavior. Most of the 24,000 calls were related to homeless issues, and about 30% of them had a severe mental illness. The city saved $8.5 million in public safety costs and another $14 million in emergency room and ambulance trips. (IBID)

According to a recent article, in Ms. Magazine, (“When Cities Replace Police with Social Workers” by Emma Coleman, 7/9/2020); in June 2020, the Mayor of Albuquerque announced a plan to create a civilian team to handle 911 calls arising from emergencies with alcohol, homelessness, drugs, and mental illness. Instead of police responding to these calls, social workers will respond. At a time where people are calling to defund the police, this process involves allocating a portion of what used to be the police budget, to unarmed public safety programs with social workers responding to emergencies. Since 2016, the Denver police have been using a “co-responder” model that teams a police officer with a behavioral health clinician to respond to calls arising from mental health crises. (Ibid)

What does this all mean to you?

There are benefits and risks with any paradigm. Regardless of the services model, make sure that you have a Professional Liability insurance policy that covers you for bodily injury and property loss that you sustain while you provide professional services.

Here are three key points to consider about new service models that minimize police presence with emergency response:

  1. Cost reduction is typically an attractive option to any organization, so these types of models without police will be seriously considered, and likely utilized.
  2. In the Eugene example, lives were undoubtedly preserved due to the 24,000 emergency response in-person visits completed by unarmed EMT civilian personnel.
  3. Civilian emergency first responders have increased risk of assault and bodily harm, property loss, or even death since no police are present. The safety of the civilian responders rests on the 911 operator’s assessment. In the case above, on 150 occasions, the civilian responders’ lives and property may have been at serious risk when they called the police for immediate emergency backup.

Here are some facts that illustrate the danger that behavioral health practitioners encounter in the present environment regardless of service model:

  1. For 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there is, on average, one felonious assault death per 100,000 social workers per year while delivering professional services.
  2. In 2019, a Lloyds London reinsurance professional liability insurance syndicate carrier group reported claims losses of 690 per 100,000 social workers who are assaulted annually while providing professional services. On average, they suffer 19 days out of work for injury recovery. When drug and alcohol issues are involved, the assault incidents triple to over 2,000 per 100,000 social workers annually.

Here is how the NASW Risk Retention Group Professional Liability Insurance policy helps YOU.

Regardless of your practice service model, you will undoubtedly be exposed in any given year to the risk of bodily harm, damage to your property, or your property loss while you are providing professional services. Check your Professional Liability policy contract form to fully understand the coverage that you have. Pay attention to the reference of First Party coverage, where you are the First Party, and the insurance company is the Second Party to the insurance policy contract. Many insurance carriers exclude this coverage, or severely limit or define what losses and locations are covered.

If an NASW Professional Liability insurance policy covers you, then you automatically have full coverage. In your policy contract form, read “Coverage Part C: Additional Coverages,” and refer to paragraph “D. First Party Assault.” Your coverage includes medical expenses incurred as a result of Bodily Injury to You and also for the repair or replacement of damaged or stolen personal property owned by you. This coverage is portable and responds everywhere that you provide professional services, such as your office, workplace, home office, at a client location, or any other place.

Thank you for all that you do as first responders and as ongoing behavioral health and social work providers. It is truly a noble profession needed now more than ever. Good luck, and stay healthy!

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NASW Risk Retention Group (NASW RRG) shares information based on our helpline inquiries, corresponding claims history, and an understanding of a varying nationwide professional state regulatory environment.

Due to COVID-19, many states have implemented or waived specific regulations; it is the individual professional's responsibility to research, implement, and monitor those regulations; and apply our risk management content as a consideration in your practice environment. Do not interpret this risk management material as any means to alter professional training, standards, nor any ethics information provided by your professional association.

Please understand, the NASW RRG makes no representations or warranties other than those stated to our current policyholders in the insurance policy contract. Please contact us if you have further questions.