Response team formed to calm teens in crisis in Licking, Knox counties

August 14, 2013

Response team formed to calm teens in crisis in Licking, Knox counties
By Alan Johnson

The Columbus Dispatch Wednesday August 14, 2013 8:32 AM
They call it MUTT - Mobile Urgent Treatment Team - but it could be called a lifesaver for youths in crisis and their families in Licking and Knox counties.

Money for MUTT and six similar projects across the state comes from $5 million allocated earlier this year by Gov. John Kasich shortly after a young man killed 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn.

The $5 million, plus $4 million recently awarded though a federal program, will be used by mental-health and developmental-disabilities agencies to help defuse potentially violent situations in which a child or young adult poses a danger.

The source is an $18 million performance bonus the state received from the federal government for reaching a high level of enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"In traditional services, we expect people to come to us," said Kay Spergel, executive director of Mental Health and Recovery of Licking and Knox Counties. "What this program offers, whenever possible, is we go to their homes or to a neutral place to help resolve the crisis."

Asked about a hypothetical situation in which a 15-year-old is having a mental breakdown and is threatening to harm himself or others, Spergel said a team of workers could be dispatched to the family home or another location to defuse the situation, get help for the youngster and prevent violence. If necessary, the teen could spend a few days in "respite" care to stabilize.

Spergel said $170,860 that the agency received is being used to form a multidisciplinary, collaborative team to respond to crisis situations involving those 8 to 24 years old.

The agency also contracted with the Village Network to provide the short-term care for youths at a treatment center in Mount Vernon.

"Our expectation is we can help families that feel tremendously isolated in communities - who are having problems with a family member. We want to try to avoid something horrible happening."

Spergel said the agency expects to get referrals from a "211" crisis help line in the two counties, and from law-enforcement or social-services agencies, doctors and clergy members.

Many of those the team hopes to assist would otherwise end up in hospital emergency rooms or jail, she said.

Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, announced that $3 million of the $5 million had been allocated to seven projects serving 20 counties, including Licking and Knox. The agency is administering the program with the state Department of Developmental Disabilities. The selected projects were picked from 38 submitted for funding.

"We're trying to do everything we can to be proactive. We are seeking to ultimately provide support for families in communities where there are gaps in the resources," Plouck said.

An additional $4 million over four years that was approved recently by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will also be used for those 14 to 21 years old, especially those who have been caught up in the criminal-justice system, Plouck said. That money will be distributed to 20 counties per year.

Also receiving crisis money:

Hamilton County (respite care and services for high-risk youths); Athens, Hocking, Vinton and Jackson counties in southeastern Ohio (rapid-response team and crisis-stabilization beds); Belmont, Harrison, Noble and Monroe counties (new treatment team and therapeutic crisis care for foster children); Clark, Greene and Madison counties (crisis respite center at the Oesterlen Services for Youth facility in Springfield); Stark, Columbiana, Wayne, Holmes and Portage counties (screening high-risk children and crisis-on-call services); and Butler County (Family Connections program to reduce out-of-home placement of troubled youths).

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