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Mental Health Takes Center Stage

December 11, 2017

Last Friday, the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) hosted an informative breakfast briefing on mental health. The discussion panel--which included representatives from city government, law enforcement, the Howard Center, UVMMC, and the Department of Mental Health--highlighted a unique collaborative approach to addressing the increasing number of mental health issues challenging Vermont communities.

At a meeting earlier this summer, these participants discussed how the increase in mental health problems affects their communities -- "stressing services, creating pain and suffering among residents, and putting first responders in situations that they are not trained to handle, which can have long term impacts on them both personally and professionally."

One strategy the group is focused on and highlighted at Friday's briefing is bringing the Howard Center's Street Outreach Program (first implemented in Burlington in 2000) to six new communities in Chittenden County. The primary goal of the Street Outreach Program is to "increase access to services" for people struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, and unmet social service needs. The program uses a number of strategies to provide necessary services to the community. For example, the program has staff who work directly through the police department dispatch system to build relationships and minimize unnecessary law enforcement interventions.

The varied perspectives of this coalition provide a strong foundation for effectively addressing one of the most complex social issues facing our society today. Many of those struggling with mental illness are also impacted by poverty--homelessness, food insecurity, and economic instability. Each coalition member is thinking about the bigger picture -- how to address mental health in a more holistic way.

At VAHHS, we are committed to working with a broad coalition to address the mental health crisis facing Vermont. We are currently working to collect data that can inform our decision making and resource allocations. This legislative session, we will work closely with legislators and others to find ways to bring about lasting, sustainable change and provide appropriate treatment in a safe environment, compassionately to all patients.

Read more about the work VAHHS and Vermont hospitals are doing on the issue of mental health.

For more information about this community collaborative approach, please contact Maria McClellan, Sr. Community Relations Strategist at UVMMC: maria.mcclellan@uvmhealth.org.