By CASEY McDermott
Concord Monitor staff
Sunday, August 30, 2015
(Published in print: Monday, August 31, 2015)
Starting Tuesday, Riverbend Community Mental Health Services is expected to roll out its official launch of New Hampshire’s first mobile crisis unit response program.
The program – designed to serve as a way to diffuse mental health emergencies in the community to avoid hospitalization and prevent future issues for the person in crisis – was mandated as part of the state’s settlement in a class-action lawsuit several years ago.
The lawsuit alleged that the state was needlessly institutionalizing those with mental illnesses and, as part of the settlement, New Hampshire was required to set up a series of reforms meant to bolster its system of community-based mental health supports. This first mobile crisis unit was supposed to be up and running by June 30, but the contract was not finalized until June 24, which contributed to delays in its rollout.
In the months since the contract was approved, Riverbend CEO Peter Evers said the organization has worked to pick up the pace on launching the units as swiftly as possible: hiring a program director, along with several staffers and peer specialists. And, even ahead of its official launch, Evers said Riverbend has already begun incorporating the mobile crisis response model into its existing work to respond when people call the organization seeking help.
Beginning Tuesday, the mobile crisis unit will officially launch its live phone answering service (available 24 hours a day) and its field response (which will be operational from 8 a.m. to midnight). Starting Sept. 30, according to Riverbend staff, the field response component will operate around the clock and the program’s crisis stabilization apartments will also be ready for use.
When fully operational, the program will offer four apartments where people can stay for up to a week after the onset of a crisis. During that time, program staff will work on discharge planning in addition to providing support services, Evers said.
Eventually, the entirety of the program – the crisis apartments, an “urgent care center” for mental health – will be located at Riverbend’s Pillar House location at 40 Pleasant St. in Concord, Evers said.
The goal of the program, in addition to providing more immediate supports for people experiencing mental health crises and reducing strain on hospital emergency rooms, is also to provide supports for people to manage their mental health over the long term
When someone is assisted by the mobile crisis unit, Evers said they’ll also be given an opportunity to do advance care planning for how to respond during future emergencies – ideally, to give them the tools needed to stay in their communities and out of an institutional setting.
Evers, who oversaw the launch of a similar network of mobile crisis response services in Massachusetts, is hopeful that this new model will serve as a kind of one-stop shop where people can turn for assistance on a range of mental health issues.
“Assessing a situation and helping people through it is one of those unmeasurable benefits of a system like this,” Evers said, adding that it ideally will serve as “a point of reference that a community comes to, to know where they can get that information.”
The program is geared primarily toward adults – as is the focus of the state mental health system overall – but Evers said he hopes to see more work done to expand services for younger clients, too, in the future.
(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)