Providers: Rethink behavioral health services at group meeting

Rural communities share many disadvantages as well as advantages. The advantages speak for themselves, but the disadvantages are much harder to get a handle on, among the disadvantages are a lack of local services for people struggling with mental and behavioral issues.

An ongoing effort to meet those needs seems to be gathering momentum. Monday, August 5, a group of service providers in that field met at the Hendry County Emergency Operations Center in LaBelle with the aim of familiarizing each other with their services, avoiding confusion, sharing information and brainstorming ideas to better serve the community and to streamline access for the public.

Marcia Monroe, Chief Clinical Officer of Central Behavioral Health Network (CBHN), a funding source that channels federal and state money earmarked for such services, led the discussion. She began by pointing out that rumors are counter-productive in making services available to all. She called on those present to work together, share information to find solutions and surmount barriers that prevent people from accessing the services that can make them whole.

A number of providers’ representatives enthusiastically shared goals and ideas pertinent to the problems.

Centerstone, located on SR 80 in LaBelle, serves youth ages 5-21 with substance abuse issues who meet certain criteria, including having had one or two hospitalizations (crisis unit), involvement with the Department of Juvenile Justice and/or low academic achievement. The organization is currently at its capacity of 35 cases, but can make referrals. It provides services to Medicaid and self-pay clients. It has a physical presence in the immediate area to see clients but also meets them at home or school. Response is within 24 hours, is “very intense” and usually lasts between six and nine months.

If the client is in immediate need, they often refer people to IMPOWER, which currently provides telehealth mental and behavioral health services to the Hendry-Glades area.

IMPOWER is in the process of setting up three “spoke sites” – one each in LaBelle, Clewiston and Moore Haven. Staff is bilingual.

All that is required to utilize IMPOWER’s services is wi-fi access and an electronic device like a computer or smart phone. A person can call or go online to enroll and then can access the help online. IMPOWER services Medicaid and indigent clients only at this time.

Over the past several decades, a number of organizations have tried to serve Hendry-Glades mental health needs, including the Hendry-Glades Mental Health Department and Crossroads. After diligently trying to meet the area’s needs, both found their efforts to be unsustainable.

Hendry County Commissioner Mitchell Wills attended the meeting and was very assertive in his assessment of the situation. His frustration apparent, he insisted that local residents “need to have bricks and mortar,” referring to a real office with personnel to meet locally with clients. “What will it take to move forward?” he questioned adding, “We’ve heard the same thing too long.”

Hendry County Administrator Jennifer Davis joined the conversation, saying that several times Hendry County has offered office space. She said that Director of Hendry-Glades Health Department Dr. Joe Pepe has also offered “incubator” space for the purpose. In Ms. Davis’ view, the area needs a local intake person familiar with services provided within Hendry and Glades who has access to the technology to do the necessary “triage” and ensure that people get the right help with the right group at the right time.

Ms. Davis was forceful in stating that she wants Central Behavioral Health Network (CBHN) to find funding for such a position.

Marcia Monroe of CBHN responded by saying that by August 31 IMPOWER is to have at least two “spoke sites” available in the area. Three are needed – one each in LaBelle, Clewiston and Moore Haven. She told the group, “We’re going to fix this.”

Those attending seemed to agree that they need to figure out the root causes why no organization has been able to fill the area’s needs in mental health. Lack of transportation? Difficulty disseminating information? One representative pointed out that reminding clients of appointments, like primary care doctor’s offices do, is an essential service, especially for the population these organizations serve. Other objectives discussed included making services more accessible, identifying the root causes of mental and emotional distress and the role of domestic violence in mental and emotional health.

One attendee suggested streamlining services could be improved by setting up a quick reference guide, available to all providers so they can quickly refer people in need to the right organization for their needs.

Several groups have some local access at the United Way House in LaBelle.

TLS Counseling is a provider for Hendry County Drug Court, offering substance abuse referral on a sliding scale in the United Way building on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Beyond Barriers offers help with anger management and substance abuse.

Lisa Sands, Office manager of Hendry/ Glades for United Way, was on hand at the meeting as well. She said, “I think it was a good conversation. The collaboration needs to be continued to serve the community’s needs.”

Attendees seemed to agree that all involved need to rethink behavioral health in Hendry and Glades counties.

Patty Brant, can be reached at cbnews@newszap.com

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