Focus on mental wellness in Humboldt County is taking center stage this month as May marks Mental Health Awareness Month across the nation. The annual campaign is an effort to identify and bring awareness to critical mental wellness initiatives across the health care continuum.
At St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, providers are at the forefront of providing health care for much of the county’s mental health patient population. To handle the influx of patients who seek medical care and who also have related mental health challenges, St. Joseph needed to innovate and adapt to a new landscape with limited resources. One such innovation is the Behavior Assessment Response Team (BART).
Members of the three person team collaborate with mental health professionals throughout the county (and even nation-wide via TelePsych services) to assess, engage and provide resources for individuals who are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction in addition to mental health instability. The team coordinates Suboxone treatment and placement in detox programs like Waterfront Recovery Services in Eureka as well as suicide prevention counseling and telemedicine coordination.
Because of the shortage of crisis stabilization beds locally, the hospital collaborates with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Mobile Response Team to find beds out of the area for patients identified as having a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves or others. BART works closely with local psychiatrists to ensure physician referrals for mental health patients are streamlined and care coordination is accurate. With so many individuals seeking care in Humboldt County, the success of programs like BART depend on multiple organizations playing active roles.
“We rely heavily on the support of St. Joseph Hospital’s leadership, their care transitions staff and our relationship with the County through DHHS and their social workers and mobile response team,” said Caroline Haug, RN, MSN, BART Coordinator. “Charting a path of mental wellness for these patients is really complex, and it takes a great deal of effort from many people across the county.”
Haug, the first staff member to join BART when the program launched in 2008, says BART plays a significant role in keeping patients out of the hospital and getting the care they need. This alleviates further physical and financial stress on a system already under significant pressure. For Haug and her staff, the goal is to treat each patient with dignity and provide them the same level of care and compassion they would receive if they had a physical illness.
“Most of these folks have experienced some trauma in their life that has put them in the situation they are now,” explained Calvin Towns, Care Navigator, BART. “Our job is to connect with them, give them the appropriate resources to ease their affliction and provide hope. It’s very rewarding when you see that happen.”
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