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With new Public Health and Safety Team, Manchester aims to reduce non-emergency calls to the police department

photo of new health workers standing together
Gabriela Lozada/NHPR
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The newly formed Public Health and Safety Team (PHAST) will connect residents with community groups that provide needed services. The program is funded through the federal American Rescue Plan.

The city of Manchester will connect residents with frontline community health workers trained in conflict mediation.

The city of Manchester on Tuesday introduced eight community health workers who will connect residents to resources and services, and serve as a non-emergency responders when police services aren’t required.

The new workers, dubbed the Public Health and Safety Team, or PHAST, are assigned to the city’s wards based on their language skills and other challenges facing the neighborhood.

During an event at City Hall, Manchester Chief Allen Aldenberg said the program aims to assist residents in need of services, including mental health treatment, rather than having those calls funneled to the police.

The community health workers are also trained in de-escalation techniques, with the goal of limiting the involvement of law enforcement in non-emergency or non-violence situations.

The new health workers will also connect residents to services including Meals on Wheels, job application support, or assistance in obtaining health care.

The program is funded through the federal American Rescue Plan.

Biram Saidybah, who supervises the program, said all city residents deserve a safe neighborhood and access to clean spaces. He emphasized that the community health workers hired by the city are people who come from the respective places they will serve.

“Everybody in this team is part of this community and our sole goal is to see the improvement of this community, because this is our community,” said Saidybah.

The workers received initial training from the New Hampshire Area Health Education Center at Dartmouth Institute, but will also receive ongoing support.

“The objective is to put the entire team through mental health first aid instruction, and certification for seniors,” said Anna Thomas, the city’s public health director. “So as we see needs in the community, I think that's going to steer some of the training that we will add.”

Since launching on a limited scale in November, the program has responded to more than 60 resident needs to date.

In total, the eight health workers speak 14 languages, something Thomas says is necessary to serve the rapidly changing population of the city.

At Tuesday’s event, Major Joyce Craig noted that community health workers have a lot of responsibilities, but also the potential to make a major impact.

“[They] will be able to address neighborhood-level concerns in this thoughtful and intentional matter,” she said.

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