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New Castle County-based behavioral health outreach program expands to Kent County

An apartment complex in Dover's 19904 zip code.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
The 19904 zip code, which covers much of Dover, will be one of the new focus areas for the Community Well-Being Initiative.

A community-based opioid use disorder and behavioral health outreach program is expanding to Kent County as overdose rates skyrocket in the Dover area.

The Community Well-Being Initiative, run by the nonprofit Network Connect, initially launched in New Castle County, fielding outreach workers in three Wilmington neighborhoods and another in New Castle with high rates of overdoses and drug-related arrests. The program's outreach workers can refer those with opioid use and other behavioral health problems to service providers, help create treatment plans and distribute the overdose-reversal drug Narcan. The cannot, however, distribute clean syringes.

Network Connect began hiring Dover-area staff last month, and Director Cierra Hall-Hipkins expects the first outreach teams to start holding community events and going door-to-door this fall. She notes the hiring process resembles the community outreach process itself.

“We go out into the communities that we’re going to serve and drop off the hiring notice," she said. "We train them to get ready to serve the people they live next to.”

Hall-Hipkins adds that Network Connect is still building relationships with Dover-area law enforcement so outreach teams can coordinate with local diversion programs – and channel some clients away from the criminal justice system.

“We’re hoping to grow those relationships. WPD and the New Castle Police Department have really taken part, so we’re hoping that the Kent County area will follow suit," she said. " For now, because the program is still fresh, I can’t name any names, but that’s on our radar.”

The program's expansion into Dover after Kent County saw overdoses rise by nearly 75 percent from 2020 to 2021. It will receive financial support from Delaware’s Division of Substance Abuse, and Delaware State University has stepped forward to act as the Kent County program’s fiduciary sponsor.

Hall-Hipkins expects the first 16 Dover-based outreach workers to begin this fall.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.