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Program expanding for Vermont kids who need mental health services

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 4:56 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 5:08 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - The number of Vermont children needing higher-level mental health care and the wait times for that care are both increasing. The result-- kids spending days, sometimes weeks in the emergency department.

So, Vermont is expanding its mental health response initiative, and four communities will receive a total of about $2 million.

Rutland piloted the initial program, created so families can call for help if their child is nearing a crisis. A clinician and case manager will meet you where you are, preventing kids from going to an emergency department.

Rutland Mental Health Services Community Care Network says the program is going well but a staffing issue has prevented them from covering what they initially intended.

“My experience has been really great,” said Doug Norford, the child and families services director at Rutland Mental Health Services.

Norford has gone on some calls and says families and school officials are appreciative. One school has even offered their building as a meeting area for families.

“We now have a mutual space in that community where we can meet. So those are the type of partnerships we are really hoping to continue to develop, particularly as we eventually get more staff,” Norford said.

Just like so many other parts of the mental health care system, the program is facing staffing issues.

“We have one clinician and one case manager which is what we started with in September and have been unable to recruit since then,” Norford said.

Norford says they have had a few quality candidates, but because of Vermont’s housing issue, those candidates couldn’t find a place to live and didn’t end up taking the job.

At this time, they are limited to the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays with no evening or weekend hours.

“Those are not necessarily the intended hours or the best hours,” Norford said.

Once more teams are hired, the program should run from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays and from noon to 8 p.m. on weekends.

Norford says a majority of clients using the services have not used emergency services or the hospital since they began working with them.

The state is collecting data from this program and notes other states have had success.

“Right off the bat those families who have received these services in Rutland, they are finding it to be a very useful resource,” said Alison Krompf, the deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health.

Krompf says the Rutland program is focused on children and youth. But there is another model called CAHOOTS that serves adults, pairing EMTs with mental health clinicians.

“We’ve heard from family members in the Vermont community that they feel that is something that would be very beneficial,” Krompf said.

The state will survey the regional level of need, interest and readiness across Vermont. From there, they will look into staffing.

Norford says he is happy to help the four communities in any way possible when they are selected.

Related Story:

Mobile mental health unit aims to help Rutland area teens in crisis

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