Will a new call center help alleviate Vermont's mental health cr - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Will a new call center help alleviate Vermont's mental health crisis?

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It's one piece of a puzzle aimed to alleviate the region's mental health crisis. New efforts and resources at the Howard Center are helping Vermonters, one caller at a time.

Many community members come in and out of this building, seeking guidance during mental health crises. It's a time of high demand for these services, and the First Call program is making changes to be more efficient. 

"We're a 24/7 operation and we get calls 24/7," said Aaron Dutil, crisis clinician. 

The Howard Center's mental health crisis program merged its three services for children, adults and clients with developmental disabilities into one. The goal is to be more efficient and help as many Vermonters as possible. The change comes in the midst of what many consider a statewide mental health crisis.

"By integrating everything, you reduce the time. The more you're able to reduce the time, the more stable you're able to keep people within the community," said Dutil. 

First Call hosted an open house Wednesday for community members to check out the new offices that opened this spring.

"So we have this area here and then this meeting area behind us if someone wants to be in a more contained space," said Charlotte McCorkel, First Call acting director. 

This is the call center where clinicians answer Chittenden County residents who phone in for guidance. Specialists provide counseling and referrals and meet people on location. They also work with support organizations, police departments and schools to provide clients with the resources they need.

"We're able to serve a whole family and look at what a whole family may need, identify supports," said McCorkel.

First Call just hired two more clinicians, bringing the total up to 19. 

McCorckel says the team aims to reduce emergency room visits when there aren't immediate medical concerns. Mental health professionals who work with First Call say they're optimistic about the program's changes, but admit workers and patients across the state are still desperate for resources.

"The social determinants of health are really vital in stability for a family, so making sure that there's enough affordable housing, making sure that we have affordable healthy food," said Kristin Fontaine, UVM Medical Center pediatric outreach coordinator.

"I really believe that if we can put more money to people available, trained staff available, where people live, work, play so that you can get to them before the crisis happens," said Stefani Hartsfield, Richmond. 

Last year, the Howard Center served more than 8,000 clients. McCorkel says First Call is also working on suicide prevention and removing the stigma of mental health. 

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