By Luna Greenstein
Sometimes it may feel as though obtaining access to good mental health care requires herculean efforts. But throughout the country, there are examples of community mental health programs that are helping to change this.
This effort has been catalyzed by initiatives such as Connect 4 Mental Health (C4MH), which encourages collaboration among the mental health community and other community-based organizations to implement quality programs and services.
C4MH gives out annual Community Innovation Awards celebrating the achievements of four programs. Each winner exemplifies a pillar of mental health services: creative use of technology, early intervention, service integration and continuity of care. Here are this year’s awardees:
Creative Use of Technology: Grand Lake Mental Health Center (GLMHC)
The challenge of living in rural Oklahoma is the distance it takes to get proper mental health care. In order to address this problem, GLMHC gives out iPads to at-risk clients and local emergency providers. With these iPads, people living with mental health conditions have contact with care staff at points of crisis for consult, resolution and next steps.
In a typical scenario, a police officer might use the iPad to consult with the GLMHC’s Intensive Outpatient Center (IOC) staff while standing with a person in crisis. The individual in crisis may then be offered voluntary admission to the IOC with police transport rather than admittance to a psychiatric hospital. After receiving care at the IOC, the person is evaluated to determine whether they need an iPad for ongoing emergency care. A person who went through this process commented that: “I can meet with therapists at home via Facetime…I know there is always someone available to speak to when I feel like my world is crashing down around me.”
In the program’s first six months, 142 iPads were distributed. Due to this improved method of handling crises, there were 721 potential psychiatric admissions avoided. Of those 721, 62% have been diverted to the IOC instead. Also, according to the local police department, the length of time for a police officer to process and handle a crisis event has significantly gone down from a range of 4.5 to 20 hours to around an hour and a half.
Early Intervention: The Eskenazi Health Midtown Community Mental Health Prevention and Recovery Center for Early Psychosis Coordinated Specialty Care Program (PARC CSC)
Early intervention when symptoms of schizophrenia first emerge can help facilitate recovery and prevent damaging consequences that can occur when timely treatment is not achieved. In May of 2009, Marion County, Indiana established a specialty clinic to address the need for young people experiencing first episode psychosis to receive treatment. In 2014, they went a step further and developed a Coordinated Specialty Care program designed to deliver rapid treatment interventions, including medication management, psychotherapy, counseling, supported employment, education and crisis intervention.
There are currently 116 people enrolled in the program who are each supported by a multidisciplinary team consisting of a team leader, psychiatrist, registered nurse, supported education and employment specialist, care coordinator, therapist and an outreach/recruitment specialist. Due to the comprehensive clinical services provided, positive outcomes have been achieved including significant reductions in suicide attempts and no completed suicides.
Service Integration: NAMI Alameda Mentor on Discharge Program (MoD)
The MoD program aims to reduce rates of re-hospitalization by providing peer mentors for individuals receiving acute psychiatric care. This intervention is established prior to discharge from the hospital by mentors who have also experienced a psychiatric hospitalization. According to the Chief Administrative Officer of the John George Psychiatric Hospital, Guy Qvistgaard, “we experienced a 72% reduction in re-hospitalization of patients involved in the program.”
The program is currently being implemented by four surrounding NAMI affiliates in California and other states have shown interest in MoD as well. It is NAMI Alameda’s goal to spread this program across the U.S. using NAMI’s network of local affiliates.
Continuity of Care: Las Vegas Municipal Court’s Mental Health Court Program
The Honorable Heidi Almase—who has a background in mental health and a master’s degree in clinical psychology—noticed that many defandants coming to her court needed mental health services. “For years, our court has struggled with how to handle those with mental illness who find their way into the judicial system,” explained Almase. “Until now, the only solution has been incarceration.”
She collaborated with mental health providers to begin the Las Vegas Mental Health Court Program, which reduces recidivism, arrests and hospitalizations of those with mental illness. The two-year program is designed to provide services across the continuum of care, including timely assessment and enrollment in services, provision of treatment for mental health and co-occurring substance use disorders, medication management, transitional housing, recovery support services addressing educational and vocational needs, family counseling and support, and aftercare/peer support services to insure continued success in recovery.
The participants move through program phases—each phase less restrictive than the last—until they are in recovery and living independently. At that point, they “graduate” from the program, and their criminal charges are dropped.
“My hope is to close the gaps in existing services, build bridges to other available services and provide a safe environment with monitoring and medication stabilization for these defendants,” said Almase.
Innovative and effective community support are an essential aspect of mental health recovery. The 2016 C4MH awardees provide services that have the potential to build better lives for those affected by mental illness. NAMI thanks all community-based programs, including these four awardees, for their contributions to the mental health field.
To learn more about C4MH, you can visit their website at http://connect4mentalhealth.com.
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