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Massachusetts expands community mental health services, adds crisis intervention teams, help line

The Center for Human Development in Springfield, Mass. is one of 25 community mental health centers receiving funding from the state.
Elizabeth Román
/
NEPM
The Center for Human Development in Springfield, Mass. is one of 25 community mental health centers receiving funding from the state.

The state of Massachusetts is expanding community-based mental health services as a way to create more parity with physical health.

In the last days of Charlie Baker’s administration, the governor's office called the expansion a "roadmap for behavioral health reform."

It includes a 24-hour help line, more crisis intervention, and 25 designated “Community Behavioral Health Centers” [CBHC] — seven of which are in western Massachusetts.

Clinical and Support Options, based in Northampton, will provide many of the new services. Executive Director Karin Jeffers, who helped advise the state on the roadmap, said Massachusetts is changing the way mental healthcare is paid for, to make it more comprehensive and coordinated.

“The CBHC’s really create a state-wide system-wide model that will be consistent no matter where you go,” she said.

Jeffers said the funding will allow clinics to hire more psychiatric nurses, medical assistants, and case managers - plus offer urgent care and extended hours.

Jeffers says government reimbursement will be higher and salaries for clinicians could go up more than 40% — bringing the average starting salary to $65,000 or 75,000 dollars a year — which she expects will bring more people into the field.

“We're hopeful that this will certainly increase access for consumers,” she said. “We know that through COVID and even before that, the demand was much higher than the system could provide for.”

But she warns that improvements could take a while, as staffing shortages remain chronic across the healthcare field, leading to long waits in emergency rooms.

As for whether the expansion goes far enough, “I think that the state is starting with what they think will be adequate. And it's the first time we've ever done this,” Jeffers said. “I think in six months to a year, we'll have a lot more information about what the actual impact was. But it's certainly a good start.”

Jeffers says Clinical and Support Options, which has four locations, plans to double the number of clinicians on staff - from 100 to 200.

Another western Massachusetts provider, Center for Human Development, will be hiring 60 new staff, according to Dr. Jalil Johnson, vice president for medical services.

He said the revamped state funding will allow the center to offer more crisis intervention, counseling, recovery coaching, and round-the-clock services for people in crisis.

“So people could potentially use this service instead of going into a hospital setting,” Johnson said. “They can go to a setting that is geared towards treating people in a mental health milieu that is more useful than, say, waiting in the emergency room.”

Johnson said, two days after the expanded center opened, a steady stream of patients were already coming in.

“We’ve done a lot of work to make sure that we've connected with community providers and hospitals, police departments, schools, so that they know that we exist,” he said.

Full disclosure: The Center for Human Development is an underwriter of NEPM.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.