Adults, children and older adults with a serious mental illness or emotional disorder often lead lives characterized by recurrent, significant crises. These crises are not the inevitable consequences of mental disability, but rather represent the combined impact of a host of additional factors, including lack of access to essential services and supports, poverty, unstable housing, coexisting substance use, other health problems, discrimination and victimization.
It used to be that when an individual or a loved one had a mental health crisis, the only option was to call 911. Often this resulted in a police, not a health care, response. Now Chautauqua County has a network of well-coordinated mental health crisis services that resulted from a collaboration among community mental health providers such as The Resource Center, Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene and WCA Hospital; first responders including the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office and other local law enforcement agencies; the Crisis Hotline operated by Crisis and Suicide Services of Erie County; and the Mobile Crisis Response Program operated by Chautauqua Opportunities.
"The collaboration began approximately three years ago as a key initiative of our communities SAMHSA funded System of Care initiative known as Chautauqua Tapestry," said Patricia Brinkman, director of the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene. "The aims of improving our crisis response system have been simple: to provide the right crisis response services at the right time and the right place so as to avert unnecessary Emergency Department visits and to decrease the number of persons having a mental health disorder entering the criminal justice system unnecessarily. While much has been done, there is still more to do and our communities providers continue to work together to ensure services are in place for individuals and families where there is a mental health crisis."
As a result of the multi-agency coordination, today a person in mental health crisis may walk-in to any local community clinic for a same-day crisis appointment, or can be connected to a mobile response by calling the Chautauqua County hotline at 1-800-724-0461. Additionally, over the past three years this partnership has trained approximately 111 law enforcement officers in responding to persons in mental health crisis as well as provided training to law enforcement in how to use the crisis response system that is in place.
"With the partnerships that have been established law enforcement now has more options to safely work with those in crises," said Lieutenant Jim Quattrone of the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department. "In the past, when an individual was in crisis they would either be taken to the emergency room or they would end up incarcerated. We now have options that are designed to assist those in crisis in a way that has positive outcomes."
Heather Stronner, intensive services coordinator of Chautauqua County Mobile Crisis Response Program reported that in 2013 The Mobile Crisis Response Program responded to 132 calls for after-hours mental health crisis intervention.
"Through increased collaboration with local clinics and hospitals, the program has been able to assist with afterhours monitoring of individuals to ensure their safety and support in the home environment," Stronner said.
Patricia A. McClennan, MA, NCC, CSAC, WCA Hospital inpatient mental health assistant manager said reintegrating back to one's family, job, and community can be difficult following an inpatient mental health admission.
"Part of the continuing care may now include collaboration with Chautauqua County Mobile Crisis Program," McClennan said. "This is arranged with the patient's agreement prior to being discharged from the hospital. Their professional skill and commitment to our community has assisted patients in better managing a crisis. Their staff assists in determining whether a patient can successfully manage the crisis at home or would benefit from further evaluation in the Emergency Department."
Local community members are feeling the improvements as well.
"With the help of my family, case manager and WRAP team we made a safety plan to help in stressful situations," said one such local youth. "One of the options on our safety plan is to call the crisis hotline after 5:30 p.m. and on weekends in time of crisis. I have called a few times and it helped me calm down to talk to someone outside my home."
If you are experiencing a medical emergency or if you're in immediate crisis call 911. If you are feeling suicidal or you need support - reach out for help to Chautauqua County Crisis Hotline at 1-800-724-0461.