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Berryhill highlights new mental health program results

Berryhill Center at UnityPoint Health delivered the initial results at a virtual Wednesday meeting of two new programs deployed over the summer to reduce stress on other hospital departments and deliver mental health services where they’re most needed.

The first, Behavioral Health Urgent Care, started providing the mental health equivalent of an urgent care clinic on June 1, with extended hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“When COVID started, we thought about great ways to support our emergency department,” said Jennifer Pullen, licensed mental health counselor. “Typically, as a person goes to inpatient hospitalization for psychiatric care, they go through the emergency department.”

As the UnityPoint system braced for a potential influx of COVID-19 cases over the summer at Trinity Regional Medical Center, the new clinic located across the street from the hospital has resulted in a decline in behavioral and mental health patients requiring emergency room intervention, Pullen said.

The clinic, open to anyone regardless of age, helps with mental health crises. A crisis can range from someone going through a difficult day with a need to talk about something to those with suicidal ideations or a plan to act on harmful thoughts.

Patients are screened by a nurse, evaluated by a therapist to determine their immediate situation and needs, and walked through the next steps for support.

“An important component is case management,” said Aaron McHone, director of Berryhill.

While patients are there, staff spend time to determine whether they’re food insecure or have housing problems and holistically identify other issues that need support. If no inpatient care is needed, patients immediately build on that connection with Berryhill to get support for their needs. If they need to be admitted to inpatient care, that relationship with Berryhill is waiting to help them as soon as they’re discharged.

In close to four months of service, 83% of 114 clients served have found resolution that doesn’t require inpatient treatment.

Crisis services are funded by $2 million grants secured in part thanks to Berryhill’s status as a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCHBC). Though the grant is currently in place for two years, McHone said Berryhill expects it to continue indefinitely. The grant will fund 25 positions, 21 of which are new.

“It’s really an opportunity to bring more people on to ensure that (clients) get the care they need,” he said.

The new CCHBC licensure type, to be rolled out across the state in coming years, ensures more comprehensive care with accompanying standards for patients.

The other service, a mobile crisis response team, has helped a handful of patients since its deployment on July 1. Since then, the service in partnership with the Iowa Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) Your Life Iowa program has expanded from Webster County to Pocahontas, Humboldt and Wright counties.

The unit brings face-to-face care to those in a “self-proclaimed crisis” in the field, wherever it’s needed.

“We’re able to meet an individual where they’re at,” McHone said — even if it’s in a parking lot.

“(Situations) can be anything from a person having thoughts of suicide or self harm to struggling with a panic attack or anxiety disorder,” said Melissa Klass, certified drug and alcohol counselor. “Whenever an individual is feeling a crisis, they’re able to request mobile services.”

With a two-person team, services arrive within one hour of the call any time — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

So far, two-thirds of patients have found resolution without requiring inpatient care.

Calls made to their phone number, 855-581-8111 (or via text message at 855-895-8398), are screened by Your Life Iowa, a program funded by the Iowa Department of Human Services, and dispatched to the units where the caller is located. Though more than half of the calls received in the area so far have been initiated by friends or family, regulations dictate that those receiving the services must be aware of and receptive to the service.

“That’s not something you can get for someone who’s averse to that,” McHone said.

For those whose mental health condition precludes them from being able to make an informed decision or consent to necessary care, the Berryhill director said alternatives include civil commitment in court by two people with firsthand knowledge of the person and law enforcement welfare checks.

Though the service funded by County Social Services and the IDPH has only had nine clients since opening, he said the program is ramping up and expects to have 40 dispatches by the end of the year, with further growth in 2021.

From experience, he said new programs tend to start slow and grow by word of mouth as more clients utilize the services. More marketing is planned to inform the public of where they can receive care, how they can receive care and how they can discern the level and urgency of care they need.

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