SLV crisis services embrace expansion (article in Valley Courier)

VALLEY After the tragic theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper set into motion a plan to improve mental health capabilities in the state.    The $10.3 million plan includes a statewide crisis hotline and Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Units across the state to help bridge the gap that currently exists in the care for people who are experiencing a mental health crisis which could include situations like: thinking about ending their life or hurting others, needing a break from a stressful situation, making choices that put them or a loved-one in serious danger, becoming unable to care for themselves, struggling with addiction or substance use issues.    San Luis Valley Behavioral Health Group (SLVBHG) is excited to be able to expand its emergency services as part of this statewide initiative.    SLVBHG has a mobile response team that will respond to crisis calls 24-hoursa-day, seven days a week and is available for all ages, regardless of ability to pay. Individuals, family members, schools, community agencies, medical and emergency response personnel can call for consultation and for emergency support and evaluation. Staff will provide an assessment/evaluation with recommendations to promote the safety and emotional stability of individuals with mental illness or individuals currently in emotional crises.    SLVBHG Chief Operating Officer Kristina Daniel said, “Staff members providing these evaluations are MA level clinicians that travel throughout the SLV to discuss crisis issues with community members and family members. SLVBHG staff will respond to any crisis within the SLV where there are not supportive services already in place.”    The recommendations and services will include: education on psychiatric and addiction conditions, referral for continuing care following the immediate crisis resolution and also other community services as needed. Other services may include seeing a behavioral health provider for counseling to address anxiety, depression or substance abuse. SLVBHG staff will also connect individuals to programs that can help with domestic violence issues, housing and physical health concerns when needed. Clinical Services Director Jennifer Silva said her staff “will work with other social serving agencies (i.e. law enforcement, departments of social/human services, counselors, hospitals, health centers, universities, etc.) to provide the appropriate level of care and support for the individual in crisis.”    If a community member needs some additional time or services in order to feel more stable SLVBHG has additional supportive programming that includes a crisis living room: which is a safe, calm house where community members receive immediate support and treatment to focus on recovery. Many people struggling with a mental illness can be treated in locally and stay in the community without the need to travel for inpatient treatment. The more quickly someone receives treatment the less likely his or her condition will worsen.    The crisis living room, a converted house that still provides a home atmosphere, offers such rooms as the “pillow room,” art therapy/play therapy room, calming room with very little light except for light tubes designed to dial in awareness and reduce anxiety, a kitchen, living room with comfortable couches and big screen television, a garage that will be converted into an exercise room and a back yard that will be utilized during warm weather.    Emergency Services Supervisor Matt Carlson, who designed much of the space, explained that the crisis living room can be used for all ages and varied situations.    Daniel said some folks might be in the throes of crisis when they come to the crisis living room, and the home will provide a safe place to de-escalate, calm down and relax.    “The emergency team can make assessments,” she explained. “Our team will come in the safe space and can talk about what they need to do.”    Daniel added, “This has been one of the biggest needs we have had in the Valley.”    Perhaps someone does not need to be hospitalized but should not be alone. The crisis living room can fill that need. This will greatly decrease the transportation and trauma of going to the state hospital in Pueblo.    That was one of the goals of the behavioral health team, Daniel said. She said hospitalization rates are already low for the Valley, but this will decrease the need for hospitalization even further.    “We know how important it is to keep people in our community,” she said. “With extra supports and resources, that number will continue to decline.”    “We are very proud of this place,” Silva said.    “I am just really excited about this. It’s going to be awesome,” said Mills Cawley, who is part of the crisis team.    SLV BHG is also working on the ability to provide overnight support to the community member that is safe and provides support while allowing them to stay in their community close to natural supports and personally known resources.    Carlson said, “If it is determined that a community member is in a serious enough emotional or other crisis to need psychiatric inpatient care or a higher level of care than can be provided locally, the SLVBHG team will assist the client in finding appropriate placement. This could be in a psychiatric hospital or Alternative Treatment Unit (ATU).”    SLVBHG is part of a consortium of behavioral health centers in the state, with SLVBHG providing services to this part of the state.    “We have a very caring, very well educated team,” Daniel said. “I know where this team’s heart is. It’s about the community and keeping people safe. We are very fortunate to have the team that we have. We have very caring, very dedicated, very knowledgeable staff. Every day they come in and give 110 percent.”    Those who are experiencing a mental health crisis or know someone in need of crisis services should call: 844-493-TALK (8255), or call SLVBHG directly at 719-589-3671.    “We are available 24/7 for anybody who needs us,” Daniel said.    She said those who are involved in a crisis or dealing with someone in a crisis and are not sure who to call, are welcome to call SLVBHG, and the team can help the caller navigate the system.    Emergency Services staff includes: Jennifer Silva LCSW, (Clinical Director), M a t t h e w C a r l s o n , M A (Supervisor), Ginny Bond LCSW, Greg Demko LPC, Darsi Madison, MA, Tammy Obie LPC, Alexis Eliades, MA, Rick Esquibel, BA CAC III, Mary Jane Cisneros MA, and Mills Cawley, BA. This article was collaboration between SLVBHG staff and Courier Editor Ruth Heide.