Revolutionizing mental health services: Inside WTCSB’s New Program

Published 4:24 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

By James W. Robinson
Staff Writer

Mental health continues to be a stigmatized factor of life across the nation. To combat the stigma, the Western Tidewater Community Services Board continues to provide mental health support to residents of Suffolk and Franklin, as well as Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. Alongside providing services to both children and adults as well as services for substance abuse and crisis sufferers, WTCSB offers same-day access and intellectual and developmental disability services for residents in need. 

Likewise, the authority recently launched its Region 5 Crisis Receiving Center, an urgent behavioral health care program at their Chuckatuck office at 5268 Godwin Blvd. During a Mental Health briefing during the City Council’s Sept. 6 work session, WTCSB Director of Business and Development Operations Brandon Rodgers detailed the new center.

“We launched our 24-hour crisis receiving center where people can walk in to get mental health treatment seven days a week. At that appointment, they can access a nurse practitioner to provide psychiatric care — they get a nursing assessment, they see a licensed clinician, and they have peer support available to them,” Rodgers said. 

Services include psychiatric evaluation and treatment, peer support, clinical assessment, counseling, and mental health education for 18+ adults. The program provides care for individuals for up to 23 hours, with walk-ins, drop-offs, and pickup requests also available. Rodgers emphasized that it’s a “pretty unique” way of providing care while detailing hopes to expand the center.

“It’s steadily grown in its use over the last 18 months or so that it’s been open, and we are looking to add on top of that unit a 16 bed crisis stabilization unit,” he said. “So if after a day or so of care, that individual is not ready to return home, they have another option to step into that.”

Rodgers says this addition will change the amount of time police officers wait with individuals without bed placements in the Sentara Obici Emergency Department as WTCSB will be available to take the temporary detention order and provide care to the individual. Planning is still in the initial phases for the $4 million enhancement to the CRC. Providing a tour of the facility, Rodgers presented a diagram of the future presenting the 4,000-square-foot addition being placed in the rear of the building. The back expansion would add rooms for music, art, fitness and activity fitness.

“We’re trying to create more dedicated space so that the folks that will be in the crisis stabilization unit as well as using the crisis receiving center downstairs and our day program all have more opportunities,” Rodgers said, detailing the diagram. “All of these things that make each one of us whole are the same things that make anybody that walk through here [whole]. One out of every five people experiences a psychiatric condition in their life, and it’s the things that help keep all of us, for a lack of a better term, sane.”

The front will also see reconfigurations. Alongside a bigger child and family area in the works, an on-site pharmacy will also be added to provide easier medicine access.

“It’s about making one place you can come get everything that you need, not having to sit in an ED (Emergency Department) with somebody that’s either got COVID, a broken leg, a brain hemorrhage or whatever else is going on…,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t help with behavioral health crises.”

The second floor will be the location for the 16 bed residential crisis stabilization unit, aimed at those who need care beyond the CRC’s 23-hour limit. The unit will provide care for up to two weeks. The floor will have a group room, offices for staff and expansion of bathroom facilities as well. A sensory room will also be added to help clients de-stress. Services from the unit are expected to be available around 18-24 months following construction to the existing facility.

Also, during the tour, Rogers and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Latashi Gunn provided additional details of what visitors can expect when they come for assistance at WTCSB. After a client checks in at the receptionist area, individuals will be greeted by a peer support specialist who will help them feel more comfortable while answering questions. After which, individuals will have access to the clinic floor, which has space for 20 people. Each bariatric chair is able to change into a bed if a person is in attendance for 23 hours.

“Mostly individuals that are going to receive care here are experiencing some kind of a behavioral health crisis. So that can be mental health or it can be substance abuse,” Rodgers said. “Mental health can be suicidal ideation, could be homicidal ideation, could be delusions, could just be depression. Also individuals with substance abuse so they may be thinking about coming clean off a substance. So maybe alcohol, marijuana, opioids, any of those.”

Following a licensed counselor providing a clinical assessment, Rodgers says people will leave with a crisis education and prevention plan that details how to feel better, who to contact for resources, and prevent getting into a crisis again. After meeting with a Nurse Practitioner for a psychiatric evaluation who might provide a medication or other recommendation for following up with a practitioner. Likewise, change of clothes, laundry, showers and transportation is available as well.

Gunn provided a tour of the examination and medical room. She expressed the importance of comfort for the clients.

“We want it to feel like a doctor’s office, it’s a voluntary program. We don’t want to scare people away with a sterile environment or something that feels like an emergency department,” Gunn said. “What we do here is breathalyzers, we do urine drug screens, we do pregnancy tests … and general head-to-toe assessment. The purpose of that is to just get a snapshot of how the client is medically.”

Detoxing is also available, which helps provide clients struggling with substance abuse regain their sense of clarity to properly give consent to receive services. WTCSB also has a Crisis Intervention Team, law enforcement officers who are specially trained to handle behavioral health issues. WTCSB has trained 58 individuals in Crisis Intervention Training, a 40-hour course for first responders. Likewise, WTCSB has a Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center co-located at their CRC. Rodgers also discussed ways of providing education to others to provide mental health awareness to the general public. He offered the example of an individual giving consent for family member involvement.

“We’ll go over an individualized crisis education and prevention plan that will have a role for family members often. Maybe somebody’s suicidal and have firearms in the home. Family members may agree to keep the firearms for a period of time. We also do things like hand out medication lockboxes or gun trigger locks,” Rodgers said. “Just the delay in the time it takes to open up a lock can be the difference between somebody completing the act of suicide or being able to be diverted from that.”

Rodgers also detailed educating people through literature and online resources on mental health topics like trauma and a prevention team providing resources and free screenings at various community events is another way WTCSB provides mental health awareness. However, he wanted to express an ongoing “crisis” in Virginia mental health facilities.

“There’s not enough hospital beds to serve the individuals that are waiting for them. We have individuals who wait in our hospital ED committed to the hospital against their will for days at a time, sometimes weeks, to get treatment,” Rodgers said. “They get shipped all over the state, they end up in Northern Virginia, they end up in Southwest Virginia, away from their families … I want to be able to keep folks here close to home, close to their natural supports, close to the things that they know and they’re comfortable with, and provide them treatment in their own community. And without having to wait.”

He continued.

“That we can provide a comfortable safe place with treatment resources around them, that’s probably the first and foremost goal of the crisis services. And then to provide some connection to the community-based care they’re going to need afterward so that they don’t end up in that same spot. That they recover. They get well.”

Finally, Rodgers expresses how WTCSB focuses on early intervention before mental health crises spiral out of control through developing Wellness Recovery and action plans with Peer Support specialists to design treatment based on a client’s preferences.

“It’s a shame when we get to the place where somebody has to be detained against their will to receive treatment,” He said. “Most individuals earlier on in a crisis, when we recognize the signs of symptoms earlier, they’re willing to accept help. As long as it’s presented and available for them … It helps them be more a part of the process, and the better we get at that, the quicker people recover and the less time they spend in crisis.”

“Our motto is ‘forward together,’ we’re trying to move everybody forward in that recovery together. It sounds cheesy sometimes when you talk about it, but it’s really the motto that helps us understand how that journey looks. And that we always want to keep taking steps forward.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call 757-656-7755 or 988.

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