News & Press
Community Wellness: Accessibility, flexibility are essential to same-day service
By Kris Hamilton
Access Director, Ionia County Community Mental Health
Posted May. 9, 2015 at 12:15 AM
Mental health issues don’t stop at 5 o’clock, so why would we lock the doors at 5 p.m.?
To reach our mission to be the premier behavioral healthcare provider in the county, accessibility to our programs and services is vital, so the staff at Ionia County Community Mental Health is constantly seeking ways to improve access.
ICCMH has always had a 24-hour telephone crisis response program through our hotline, 888-527-1790, where there is always someone on call, seven days a week. But a year ago, the staff at ICCMH started talking about how to increase accessibility to our services at our offices in the communities we serve.
Many of our home-based and community-based staff already carry on during nontraditional hours. Home visits are often done in the evening. Just about every clinical staff member has evening hours during the week. Many treatment groups meet later in the afternoon, such as the “Love and Logic” positive parenting group, and “Nurturing Parenting,” a group that works with the whole family system.
We’ve always tried to be flexible to meet the needs of our consumers and families, so we decided to give extended office hours a trial run.
Presently the Ionia office is open until 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; the Belding office is open until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, and the Portland office is open until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. (There are plans to expand hours in our Portland office as needs there continue to surface for us.)
People are really taking advantage of our longer hours. We’ve learned that our consumers and families really appreciate being able to come in after they get out of work, especially for initial screening and crisis work. We’ve been successful in getting CMH services to people who can’t come in during “traditional” office hours. There are parents who have jobs with hours into the evening and kids who attend school during the day. Knowing our doors don’t close at 5 p.m. also offers people an opportunity to just walk in until 8 at night. Even in a crisis, people sometimes just don’t want to call the crisis line. They want to talk face-to-face with a person.
Increasing office utilization is another important way to reach our mission, reach out to the community and provide access to services. We want community members to know they can come to the ICCMH office to find support, to meet a need, and to access help. Our building is used by community partners as a location where they can provide their own programs. An AA support group meets in our Ionia office. ICCMH and local probation department staff and Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Kreeger partner to hold a treatment group for adult Drug Court participants, which takes place in the evening when the building is open late, so even those who work during the day can come.
To assist the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs make their services more accessible in the community, and help local veterans receive the services they need from their VA service providers in Battle Creek, Lansing and Grand Rapids, ICCMH will be a site for Tele-Health, a real-time clinic via video teleconferencing. Veterans will be able to come into the ICCMH office and have their addiction treatment session or PTSD treatment session, via satellite, with their own therapist at the other end.
If vets in the community can’t make an appointment because they don’t have transportation to get there, they can connect via Tele-Health at ICCMH so their treatment will continue. We already have the equipment ready and in place, and we signed the official “memorandum of understanding” with the VA this week. Once they give us the green light, that program will be underway.
Flexibility is the key word for me when it comes to accessing our programs and services. We have to be flexible to make sure we are meeting the needs of community members – and not only meet their needs but see those who request assistance the same day they request it. That is our goal. We don’t want anyone to wait two weeks for an appointment.
We take accessibility so seriously that we measure it as one of the outcomes by which we evaluate our success as an agency. We define “accessibility” as immediate responsiveness to the needs of the community, and here’s how we quantify that: We count the number of persons requesting services from us who have face-to-face contact the same day they request it. We strive to reach 85 percent.
This past quarter, 95 percent of the individuals who asked us for help saw an ICCMH staff member, face-to-face, the same day. We work hard to meet and exceed our goal, and we are proud of this achievement.
We hope you are, too.
Kris Hamilton is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor. She is the Access Director at Ionia County Community Mental Health and can be reached at email@example.com.