06/28/07 — Eastpointe's budget adds money for crisis response

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Eastpointe's budget adds money for crisis response

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 28, 2007 1:45 PM


News-Argus Staff Writer

Despite earlier fears that his budget might be cut, Eastpointe Director Ken Jones said the local mental health management entity for Wayne, Duplin, Lenoir and Sampson counties is looking to be in good shape for the new fiscal year.

"According to the legislature, it looks as though all of our functions will be supported in next year's budget," Jones said.

Eastpointe, like all other local management entities, is responsible for helping patients access the mental health system, particularly those on Medicaid and those without insurance. It also is responsible for overseeing the provider network in the four-county region and responding to patients' concerns and needs.

The highlight of the $21.4 million budget is a $900,000 appropriation being provided by the state to support a mobile crisis response team -- something that Eastpointe has been in need of for months.

"That's the big thing this year, this mobile crisis response team," Jones said.

Crisis response, he explained, is an area that Eastpointe and many other LMEs have fallen short on since mental health reform began in 2001.

Since then, people in crisis situations have often ended up at the emergency departments of Wayne Memorial Hospital and others across the region, exacerbating already overcrowded situations. The problem, Jones explained, is that with Eastpointe having been forced to divest itself of all actual mental health care services and no private provider offering a crisis response program, those emergency departments have been the only avenue for many people to find help.

Currently, Eastpointe's version of a response team is an on-call group that often arrives simply to facilitate the commitment process from Wayne Memorial to Cherry Hospital.

The goal of this new mobile crisis response team, Jones explained, will be to keep those people out of the local and psychiatric hospitals.

"The team should be able to handle a crisis for anybody who falls into the populations we serve (developmentally disabled, mental illness and substance abuse)," Jones said.

He explained that the team will likely consist of at least four members -- one in each county -- and that response times should be under two hours in almost every case.

"When there's a crisis, one, two or the whole team might have to go. But most of the time one team member should be able to respond, and the way we would have the team set up, they should be able to get anywhere pretty quick," he continued. "Their first responsibility will be to de-escalate the situation and do everything they can to keep the person from going to a more restrictive situation such as the hospital."

And while he's hoping to have it up and running by mid- to late summer -- though he's not sure yet if it will be operated by Eastpointe or one of the private providers -- it won't be working alone.

As part of that $900,000, the state also is providing for a new crisis intervention program.

"Basically it's to get the community involved and understanding that these crises that happen are often based on a mental illness. It trains them on how a client should be treated," he said. "The whole intent is to train law enforcement, in particular, to recognize crisis situations and to contact maybe the mobile crisis unit, rather than going ahead with some type of commitment."