04/27/07 — Eastpointe addresses access to care issue

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Eastpointe addresses access to care issue

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 27, 2007 1:45 PM

They've repeated it so many times in the last year that it's almost become a mantra for Eastpointe employees, but recently they stood before a group of mental health professionals and interested consumers and said again that while they no longer provide mental health services, Eastpointe is the primary access agency.

Unfortunately, access director Suzanne Lewis said, because they no longer provide the actual services, some people believe Eastpointe no longer exists.

"We're constantly hearing, 'I thought Eastpointe was dead,'" she said. "We're definitely still here. We're just no longer a provider of mental health services; we're a local management entity."

The goal of the session, which was hosted by the Wayne County Mental Health Association, was to educate people how to reach Eastpointe.

The lesson was that it's pretty simple.

Not only does any old Eastpointe number -- from any of the four counties -- still connect consumers to the call center, but the old Wayne County hotline -- 735-HELP -- does as well.

People also can dial the current numbers, 800-513-4002 or 587-0300 for the call center or 800-913-6109 for the crisis line.

Of the more than 6,000 calls handled by Eastpointe in March, Lewis estimated that anywhere from a quarter to a third of them were people in need of help.

"Someone is going to answer that phone 24/7 -- not a recording directing you to call 911, but a live, trained professional," she said.

During the business day, those people are Eastpointe employees.

At night, on weekends and on holidays, those people are from Real Crisis Intervention -- a crisis intervention and support service in Greenville.

But, Lewis said, regardless of who answers the phone, the greeting will be the same -- "Eastpointe, how can we help you?"

From there, callers are screened, triaged and referred.

"Ninety percent of all our screenings, our initial first contacts are by phone," Lewis said. "There is a standard screening form that was distributed by the Division of Mental Health. It's not just, 'What is your name?' 'How do you feel?' and 'Can you see someone next Tuesday?'"

Based on the results of that screening, people are then divided into three areas and appointments are scheduled with the appropriate providers.

"I think it's real important we have that done before we disconnect because once we hang up the phone, we've in a sense lost that person unless they have a very specific plan in place," Lewis said.

Of those three levels of diagnosis, the first is emergent. Those are people who are posing an immediate threat to themselves or others. The state Department of Health and Human Services Division of Mental Health requires that those people receive face-to-face intervention within two hours.

The second level is urgent. Those are people who are nearing the life-threatening stage and require immediate help to keep their situations from escalating. They are required to be seen within 48 hours.

The third level is routine and those are the people with issues and problems that need to be addressed, but who often are coping with them well enough to not need immediate help. They are required to be seen within seven days.

And, Lewis said that in terms of the emergent and urgent care clients, they're able to get them in front of a provider -- often a psychiatrist -- within the required time and in many cases, sooner.

The problem comes when trying to find appointments for the routine patients. She estimated that they're able to schedule appointments for only 75 percent to 80 percent of those clients within the seven days. The rest usually are seen within 14 days.

"We're meeting the needs of the most severe severely impaired. Those folks, we feel like we're doing a good job with," Lewis said. "But we're not meeting 100 percent of the routine (clients) and Eastpointe is not unique in that. We cannot create what's not there.

"There are not enough private providers for the demands. Private providers have not had enough time to develop their capacity to ensure everyone can be seen within the required time."

She explained that not only are there not enough providers, but those that are out there already have too high of a patient load and some are reluctant to accept Medicaid and indigent -- state-paid -- clients. She added that in some cases, the delays are caused by the client's scheduling conflicts.

But, she does believe things will get better -- it's just going to take more time and hard work.

"This whole environment we're in is like a huge jigsaw puzzle and every day it keeps getting larger and larger and if only one piece is missing, it could change the whole answer," Lewis said. "This is a community challenge and all the players have to be part of the solution."