Published: May 28, 2020
The month of May is dedicated to raising mental health awareness, but more work needs to be done to ensure that people who are struggling get the help they need year-round. This year, the coronavirus pandemic has taken an increased toll on mental health. Necessary confinement protocols have led to increased stress levels and anxiety, triggering deeper mental health issues like depression and compulsive disorders.
For people with a dual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or another developmental disability and a psychiatric disability, the pandemic has compounded the need for professional services. Although this diagnosis is not uncommon, persons served, family members and caretakers continue to experience difficulty in finding effective care and treatment due to a severe shortage of professionals qualified to treat both conditions.
Bridgewell’s START (Systemic, Therapeutic, Assessment, Respite and Treatment) Crisis Clinical Support Services provides much needed short-term crisis prevention, intervention and behavior support planning for this underserved population. Since it opened in 1989, the START Program has provided clinical, emergency and planned respites to more than 2,000 people with developmental disabilities and behavioral healthcare needs.
START encompasses three separate Bridgewell programs that work closely together including The Sovner Center, START Clinical and START Respite. The START model is recognized across the state for its success rate in providing diagnostic services, specialized treatment planning and training within the context of a structured residential program.
“START is a robust system of resources. We make sure people in dire circumstances have access to proper medical care, food and a safe environment. We strive to keep them engaged in things that will stimulate their mind and help them grow,” said Peter Cavicchio, Program Director of START Respite.
People who are served through START could be dealing with issues such as bi-polar disorder, depression, impulse control, past trauma, homelessness, substance use and verbal and emotional abuse. It is not unusual to be serving people whose behavior may have resulted in aggressive acts, including assault, fire setting, sexual misconduct or other socially disruptive behavior. Many people admitted to START Respite are at high risk of requiring psychiatric hospitalization, and START clinicians aim to prevent that.
START Clinicians are prepared to handle emergency respite admissions at any time, as START Respite provides services 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Once a person is admitted to START Respite services, respite staff work with each person based on their unique needs and situation to stabilize them and make them feel at home in their new environment. Then clinicians facilitate a meeting with the person’s team to develop a plan. No two referrals are the same.
Since the main goal of the START Clinical Team is crisis prevention, the Personal Support Plan details behaviors and interventions intended to assist providers in intervening proactively so that people do not need to access crisis services.
“There can be a lot of complicated family dynamics involved as well,” said Allison Cheers, Director of START Clinical Services. “It’s very rewarding to advocate for services for someone, and then watch them finally get those services they need.”
Unfortunately, there is a lack of programs dedicated to accessing much needed support. Many facilities across the state have closed due to insufficient funding, and psychiatric hospitals are not equipped to properly treat people with a dual diagnosis or intellectual disability. Bridgewell is filling that gap through services and specialty care in a number of areas including developmental disability and psychiatry provided through the umbrella of START Clinical Services. Over the past year, the START Respite program has had a 97% achievement rate of people who have successfully completed the plan during his or her stay.
Mental health issues have been amplified amid COVID-19, creating new barriers for people who were already suffering from mental illness. Bridgewell’s Clinical Support Services team is equipped to handle cases and is uniquely qualified to provide consultation, education, evaluation and direct support to prevent crises and offer unmatched care through this time of uncertainty and beyond.