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Cattaraugus, Chautauqua eye plan to improve mental health services

LITTLE VALLEY – When someone phones a call center for help with a mental health issue only to be picked up by police and taken to the emergency room, where they wait up to 36 hours for help, it’s a double negative, mental health professionals say.

Not only could the officers have been doing something else, the person who needs help learns not to reach out again.

Yet that’s the outcome too often, said Dawn Miller, director of community services for Cattaraugus County.

Now plans are under way to change that, Miller told members of the County Legislature’s Human Services Committee last week.

The process could be improved through the use of the Crisis Services organization, she said, which would offer patients a better experience and make them more likely to get the help they need.

The plans create a more comprehensive call center that would de- escalate patients’ situations, provide referrals to a facility and perform triages of patients’ problems. The center would have daytime dispatch ability and an after-hours component.

Currently, after-hours calls are taken care of by service providers who work a full week and also do a rotation in the call center.

“That is something that really can reduce effectiveness,” Miller said. “If the staff are up all night with the hotline, they are not going to be at the top of their game at work the next day.”

The new plan would include the creation of a team that would handle those times, she said.

Revamping that end of the system is just the first step. The second step would give patients the ability to check themselves into a respite center more tailored to meeting their needs.

Housing Options Made Easy has started the program to serve residents of Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties and lessen the burden on emergency rooms.

This model turns the medically based service model into one of self-empowerment by offering patients individual bedrooms and self-directed therapeutic activities. The goal of the facility is to have the patients learn techniques to alleviate their own crises.

The new plan, according to Miller, would reduce the amount of Medicaid dollars spent by the county on mental health-related emergency room visits.

According to her numbers, a stay in the hospital for mental health services average $1,400. In 2011, factoring in all of the hospitalizations due to mental health, there were 765 days spent in the hospital. That equates to a little more than $1 million in Medicaid dollars spent on mental health patients.

Rose House, a respite house in Poughkeepsie, has a similar population to that of the Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties area, and it has an annual cost of $264,000, she said.

To help turn the respite house into a reality, officials in the Chautauqua County Mental Health Department have expressed interest in sharing the service and cost, according to Miller. Preferably, the house would be located along the counties’ shared border, possibly in the Randolph area.

The committee members haven’t made a decision. Chairwoman Linda Edstrom said they would like to see more information, but it does look like a “no-brainer.”