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‘We’ll take care of getting you the right service’: Mental health players sync up

Two of the biggest players in mental health are braiding together their operations, to ensure that local people who need help end up “in the right place, the first time.”

Within a few months the Canadian Mental Health Association and Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare will have a common 1-800 number that people can call for help with their mental health issues, as well as a team of intake workers, located at the new downtown Transitional Stability Centre. The furniture was being delivered to the 744 Ouellette Ave. location on Friday.

The intent is to create a system where clients can move seamlessly between programs, whether they’re at Hotel-Dieu or CMHA, so they don’t have to tell their stories repeatedly as they enter various programs, wait for weeks while a spot opens up, or navigate the system by themselves.

“This allows our teams to be able to make the transition from one service to the other without having the individual going back to Day 1,” said Sonja Grbevski, Hotel-Dieu’s vice-president of clinical operations.

Under the new co-ordinated access, the client calls the 1-800 number and the staff take over from that point on, assessing them and then directing them into programs. They call this a “warm handoff.” And if there’s a wait to get into a program at another agency, staff set them up with something else to bridge the gap.

“Previously we’d say: ‘OK, there is a two-week wait list, here’s a referral, you make a call, get yourself an appointment,’ and the likelihood of some individuals not following through happens, they fall through the cracks,” said CMHA’s CEO Claudia den Boer.

“We’re trying to avoid that,” she said.

“They’ll be able to make a call and not have to worry whether they’re calling the right place. The response they’re going to get is ‘we’ll take care of getting you the right service,’ rather than saying ‘we don’t do that here, you need to go there.’ So I think that is huge.”

She expects that the result will be shorter waits, fewer instances when clients are in crisis, and fewer urgent visits to the emergency department. “Our hope is … we really mitigate those occasions when people are not getting the help they need.”

Staff are coming from both organizations, directed by integrated managers. “We’re co-ordinating our services across the board,” said Rob Moroz, integrated director of outreach and community services for both Hotel-Dieu and CMHA. The two organizations have different roles in mental health, he said. CMHA runs community programs, while Hotel-Dieu is a hospital with in-patient as well as out-patient programs. But clients tend to move back and forth.

“What we’re saying is the client really shouldn’t notice any big difference in the care, quality or provision of treatment,” said Moroz. He believes this new co-ordination will have a big impact on the high no-show rate for mental health clients. Research shows, he said, that when you can assure clients you’re with them until they go to the next step, they tend to show up.

The formal collaborative agreement was urged by the Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network, the organization that flows $1.1 billion of government money to local health programs. Board chairman Martin Girash said Hotel-Dieu and CMHA did a lot of work eliminating a host of bureaucratic processes that served as barriers between them. It’s the kind of co-operative integration between agencies the LHIN wants to see to improve local health care.

“Processes between one organization and another need to be smooth, need to be fluid, because the patient has to go from one organization to the other,” Girash said. “And if they’re not smooth, the patient gets caught up in that.”

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