Connecticut Mental Health Crisis Teams Bridge Service Gap to Stabilize At-Risk Youth

By Olivero, Magaly | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Connecticut Mental Health Crisis Teams Bridge Service Gap to Stabilize At-Risk Youth


Olivero, Magaly, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


The growing number of children and teens exposed to traumatic events in everyday life has forced the state's crisis intervention teams to respond to a broader range of behavioral and mental health issues, and those teams often serve as a bridge until at-risk youth find appropriate outpatient or inpatient services.

Sixty-four percent of Connecticut's youth who use Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services, the state's mobile crisis intervention team, have experienced one or more traumatic incidents, such as domestic violence, cyber-bullying, physical assaults or gang warfare, experts report.

Research shows childhood exposure to violence, physical or sexual abuse and other traumatic events can cause chronic health and behavioral health problems, and such exposure is associated with increased involvement with the child welfare and criminal justice systems.

"The number of children who have been exposed to trauma is a significant concern. It's a common occurrence among young people," said Jeffrey Vanderploeg, vice president for mental health initiatives for the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut. He is director of the EMPS Performance Improvement Center, which is housed at CHDI.

Expanded role for crisis intervention

EMPS is a crisis intervention program with a statewide network of about 150 mobile mental health professionals who assist children up to age 18 with behavioral or mental health emergencies. When a call is placed to 2-1-1 from any Connecticut town, clinicians respond within 45 minutes, either by telephone or at a face-to-face crisis assessment and intervention at home, at school or in the community. They can remain involved for up to 45 days, creating care plans, coordinating services and following up.

Last fiscal year, EMPS provided 12,376 instances of care -- up 11.4 percent from the previous fiscal year -- and some worry that demand soon will exceed the program's capacity.

State lawmakers currently are considering future funding for EMPS and other mental health initiatives. In October, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued an "action plan" for children's behavioral health that called for using $160,000 to post a full-time EMPS crisis intervention worker in the emergency department of Connecticut Children's Medical Center and a part-time worker in another hospital. The plan also said the governor was "considering" enhancing the EMPS network by increasing the hours of service from 11 hours a day to 18 hours a day, at an expected cost of $3 million. Current EMPS costs are about $10.5 million this year.

EMPS was created to assist children in their homes and communities, reduce emergency department visits, and divert youth from more restrictive and costly interventions, such as hospitalizations, residential care settings or arrest. Funded by the state Department of Children and Families in partnership with United Way of Connecticut, the program serves all youth regardless of health insurance status.

Heightened awareness about behavioral health issues and the EMPS program accounts for some of the increased demand for services, experts said. But clinicians also report an increase in the severity of cases, compounded by the shortage of outpatient and residential treatment placements and the inability of many families to afford the behavioral health care their children need.

"We're seeing kids who require an intense level of services that might not be available right away. We're being called in to provide treatment in the interim so their situation does not escalate. Some children need a high level of care. But others can step down from the crisis," said Jessica Welt, director of crisis services at the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut. The center is one of six agencies that provide crisis intervention services from 15 satellite sites statewide.

"EMPS clinicians are doing a tremendous job of responding to crisis, but their ability to follow up with clients is being stretched," Vanderploeg said. …

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