Tompkins County Collaboration: Help is Available During Times of Emotional Distress or Crisis

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Earlier this year, Community Foundation of Tompkins County brought together the Tompkins County Mental Health Department, Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services, and the Ithaca Police to share their collaboration efforts with local community agencies and to raise awareness of the services they provide the community.

The Tompkins County Mental Health Department, through funding and support from Care Compass Network and the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program, was able to develop the Mobile Crisis Team to provide support to community organizations such as Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services and the Ithaca Police. “Without them I’m really not sure how we could have made the Mobile Crisis Team sustainable,” stated Sharon MacDougall, Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health, Director of Community Service from Tompkins County Mental Health Department. Care Compass Network’s Crisis Stabilization and Strengthen Infrastructure Across Mental Health and Substance Use Programs/ Prevention projects for Behavioral Health has helped organizations such as Tompkins County Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services through reimbursements that provide support to create new programs or provide support for staffing needs.

MacDougall stated that they will be working with the Office of Mental Health (OMH) on some of the regulatory changes to open up billing. This will help ensure the Mobile Crisis Team continues to be sustainable beyond the end of DSRIP in 2020.

Tompkins County  Mental Health Department
The Tompkins County Mental Health Department provides mental health support for the residents of Tompkins County. A recent development for the Mental Health Department is the development of the Mobile Crisis Team (MCT) which was established a little under a year ago. This new service identified and filled a gap during after hours and weekend hours for a behavioral health crisis where there was no current behavioral health response team available.

The Mobile Crisis Team uses a two-team model that includes a primary clinician (usually a social worker, nurse, or licensed therapist that are trained in suicide prevention and crisis work) and a Care Manager. The primary clinician is the lead who accesses the situation and provides the crisis intervention. They are also the designated person, under the mental hygiene law, to have the ability to send someone to the hospital if needed. The Care Manager is trained and experienced with mental health and has access to community resources where they can provide a warm hand off depending on what is needed. The Care Manager also provides support to the primary clinician by speaking with family members, if available, to obtain further information that may help them deescalate the situation. Determination of the crisis is very individualized and the MCT works hard to deescalate the situation without having to transport the individual to the hospital. If the individual is truly at imminent risk to themselves or to others, according to Sharon MacDougall, the team can enact the mental hygiene law to transfer them to the hospital, which is usually done after all other options have been exhausted. If deemed necessary to transport them to the hospital, the team goes along and speaks with the hospital staff to debrief them on the situation.

MCT is activated through Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services or through 9-1-1. Once the MCT is activated, the team will come together within an hour max to respond to the situation. If the situation is deemed high-risk, law enforcement will meet the team prior to arriving on location to ensure the safety of the team and the individual experiencing a crisis.

Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services
Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services provides free and confidential crisis counseling, After-Trauma Services, and provides education on suicide prevention and mental health. The Crisisline is available 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Crisis is often perceived as when an individual is in a moderate to high-risk situation. But according to Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services a person experiencing emotional distress such as losing a job is a good enough reason to call the Crisisline. About 20% of the calls that come into the Crisisline are from callers that have suicidal idealization with only about 2% of those calls being identified as needing to go to the hospital. The majority of the calls received by the Crisis Counselors have been deescalated through phone calls and safety plans. According to Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services, many of their calls often come from family members or young adults that are concerned about a friend or family member or from community organizations that need help with a client.

Crisis Counselors use Active and Reflective Listening skills when speaking with every caller to ask questions and encourage the caller to open up about their current situation. The counselors ask every caller directly if they are having thoughts of suicide in order to normalize the question. This helps them assess and evaluate the situation in order to find out what help is needed at that moment and how to get them to a safe place. During this assessment, the Mobile Crisis Team may come into play as a service that can be provided if the person needs someone to come out and meet them to talk. If there is no imminent risk or need, the counselors will offer to connect them to different services in the community that can help.

The Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services Crisisline can be accessed by anyone at 800-273-8255 or 607-272-1616 any time day or night. The Crisisline also has a chat feature that can be used by texting to 607-269-4500, Monday thru Friday from 6-9pm.