Community Leaders and Officials Meet on Mental Health

Community Leaders and Service Providers Meet to Discuss Mental Health Issues

About 50 legislators, local government officials and service providers met to receive an update on the status of the Community Outreach program and discuss areas where residents suffering from mental health crisis or addiction are still falling between the gaps in service.

The meeting was hosted by the nine communities that participate in the Community Outreach Program; South Burlington, Colchester, Winooski, Essex, Williston, Shelburne, Richmond, Hinesburg and Milton. Community Outreach is a program managed by the Howard Center that embeds mental health Counselors with the police departments and ambulance teams of the member communities to address the needs of residents suffering mental health crisis at the point of contact.  There are currently five counselors on the team with one additional to be hired shortly. 

Community Outreach has had a very significant impact on addressing the needs of residents suffering crisis.  During FY 20, (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020) Community Outreach had 1,575 contacts with residents of the member communities (prior to Hinesburg and Milton joining) and 1,270 referrals to various service providers.  According to the Howard Center, fully 55% of contacts in distress showed immediate improvement with outreach support.

Notwithstanding the hard work of Community Outreach team members residents are still falling between the gaps of services being provided by the State and by local providers.  One of the most concerning gaps involves residents who present with co-occurring mental health and addiction issues.  There is a divide in coordination between the Vermont Department of Health covering addiction issues and the Vermont Department of Mental Health covering mental health issues. 

These divisions continue to some extent with service providers supporting either addiction treatment or mental health treatment.  Those experiencing both, which is reasonably common, sometimes fall between the gaps. 

In addition to this concern, there is also identified need for a true “crisis center” where people in crisis no matter what the cause can go for secure and supportive treatment to address their needs.  Many residents suffering from these issues end up in the Emergency Department at the University of Vermont Medical Center where they can wait for days and even longer for access to treatment. 

The group agreed that we need to make progress toward addressing these concerns and the managers of the Community Outreach member communities will be discussing how to move toward solutions.

(NOTE; City News will be featuring an ongoing series of articles about mental health issues in our community)