By Rebecca Bunch
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
A conversation between agencies involved in the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill in Chowan County is helping to create a road map for helping them avoid that fate.
Steps in the process would include getting an area Mobile Crisis team involved at an earlier stage and easing the burden on the emergency room at Vidant Chowan Hospital. Playing a key role would be the development of a Mobile Medication Program in the community.
Betsy Johnstone of Edenton, who heads the Albemarle chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), said a key question raised during the meeting was, “what kind of follow-up can be done with individuals when they are discharged from psychiatric hospitals so that they (continue taking) their medications and avoid recurring crisis and readmission?”
Johnstone noted that there were two avenues to pursue as conversations and collaboration between agencies continue. The first is to have law enforcement officers give family members Mobile Crisis contact information and have them contact the agency before the person’s condition develops into another full-blown crisis.
“The hospital can also refer families to Mobile Crisis,” she added.
The second measure, Johnstone said, would be the establishment of the Mobile Medication Program.
“We need to pursue a Mobile Medication Program here in Chowan County that offers a structured follow-up with patients upon discharge from psychiatric stays to make sure they are staying on their medications,” she said.
“Both of these avenues will significantly reduce the number of involuntary commitments and the burden they present to our county resources as well as the ongoing crisis cycle for the individuals with mental illness and their families,” Johnstone added.
Keith Hamm, Mobile Crisis Services supervisor, agreed that having his team involved would help prevent emergency room visits as well as involuntary commitments.
“Mobile Crisis Services endeavors to stem the tide of unnecessary involuntary commitment by providing services before an individual goes to the emergency room,” he said. “If Mobile Crisis is involved in a mental health crisis situation there is an 80 percent chance the person will not end up being hospitalized.”
Hamm added that not everyone with mental health issues necessarily needs to be hospitalized.
“Not every person who is having suicidal thoughts needs to be hospitalized,” he said. “As a matter of fact if they don’t need to be hospitalized and they are that can exacerbate the problems they’re already experiencing.”
In addition to working with those suffering from depression, Hamm said that the Mobile Crisis team can also respond seven days a week, 24 hours a day in the case of those experiencing mental health-related substance abuse or struggling with any type of traumatic life experience.
“A crisis is any situation a person might be facing that they currently don’t have the skills to deal with,” he said. “That’s where Mobile Crisis can step in.”
Hamm said that Mobile Crisis could be accessed by anyone — including law enforcement officers, magistrates and physicians — by calling (866) 437-1821.
Cindy Coker, vice president of patient services for Vidant Chowan Hospital, appreciates the opportunity to be involved in meetings and discussions regarding this important community issue.
She said that hospital personnel had been meeting and talking with representatives of NAMI and the Mobile Crisis team since October and want to help facilitate the involvement of Mobile Crisis before someone ends up in the emergency room with a mental health crisis.
“We kind of have a game plan as to how we’re going to improve services,” she said.
Coker added that while only two North Carolina counties — Vance and Nash — are part of a pilot initiative for a Mobile Medication Program that could be utilized elsewhere in the state — it is something that she and others connected with the local effort to improve the quality of life for the mentally ill in the community will be watching.
The Mobile Medication Program is operated by Daymark Recovery Services and coordinated by the North Carolina Hospital Association. The purpose of the program is to help people who are at risk of psychiatric-related hospitalization keep track of their medications. Julia Wacker serves as coordinator for the program.
The program is run by a team of three in each county — one nurse and two technicians who travel from home to home in the two pilot program counties helping people with mental illness learn how to manage taking their medications so that they can avoid going into crisis mode.
“Any county in North Carolina could justify a need for something like this,” Wacker recently told the Raleigh News and Observer.
The pilot initiative in the two counties for the Mobile Medication Program started in April.
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