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UCS’ programs succeed, funds still limited

BENNINGTON—What used to be an agency with a reputation for having a call wait list, its no longer the case for United Counseling Services.

At the annual breakfast meeting on Monday, Rose Schatz, coordinator for the Universal Access Program, reveal the progress of the referral service since its inception on June 28, 2015. It was funded by a master grant from the Vermont Department of Health.

“When people call for service, they get referred to the right place the first time and they get immediate access to those services,” UCS executive director Lorna Mattern said.

Schatz documented 438 access appointments that have been made since the program launched, in the sector of mental health, substance abuse, youth and family services and psychiatric evaluations. If UCS does not provide a service someone needs, Schatz said she will refer them to a partnering agency.

“[We work] very hard to develop relationships with agencies throughout the community,” she said. “It is not without challenges, currently we only serve Bennington County and because of this [we have] developed very strong relationships with private therapists throughout our area who can take insurance policies we cannot.”

Collaboration seemed to be the theme of the breakfast regarding solutions to a lack of funding — consistent over the past few years.

One concern highlighted the need for longer term care for psychiatric patients, not in a hospital but potentially a nursing home. A UCS staff member spoke about how she had to direct a client to an agency near Boston, Mass. because there wasn’t a nursing home in Vermont that would take the client.

“It’s not an answer but a hope,” said SVMC CEO Tom Dee. “Last week we submitted an application to New York Department of Health. The Center for Nursing and Rehab (Hoosick Falls, N.Y.) has approached us to become a part of our system. So we have agreed to do that. In part of the plan for that is to try to have our nursing home and their nursing home to collaborate very closely. One of the things that we’ve highlighted is the need to create a geriatric psychiatry unit.”

Similar to last year, the notion of high employee turnover rates — 22 percent at UCS, 26 percent at the state level — and holes in the budget, were presented to lawmakers.

For fiscal 2016, Mattern said 1,124 staff turned over in the state system of care. Costs related to turnover averages $4 million per position, she said.

“There’s a much greater need for services than the agencies can meet,” Mattern said. “Community mental health agencies are not able to meet the need (under the circumstances).”

Senator Dick Sears D-Bennington empathized with Mattern’s concerns.

“There’s some things we can do to lower those numbers and that’s one of the things I’m committed to,” he said. “The drug problem is real. It is eating up resources everywhere. You all know it everyday. It’s a very real problem. We’re struggling as a state.”

Many also expressed the need for treating people who end up being unnecessarily hospitalized or incarcerated due to their mental health status.

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.

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