From expanding telepsychiatry to starting a reassurance line, Spartanburg has made great strides this year in treating mental health, officials said Tuesday.
“We wanted to build upstream services to reduce downstream demand,” said Tom Barnet, chairman of the Spartanburg Behavioral Health Task Force.
Barnet was among several panelists at a state Department of Mental Health community forum, the third in six years in Spartanburg and 53rd overall statewide, according to John Magill, director of the S.C. Department of Mental Health. About 45 people attended.
Panelists explained what state and local mental health centers and local agencies have done to meet the needs of the mentally ill.
Barnet said when his task force organized in May 2013, one of the big goals was to improve connecting the mentally ill to services. Further, he said the task force sought to build on services that support patients before problems become a crisis and result in emergency room visits or jail incarcerations.
A reassurance support line was launched this year, which provides peer support to those working to maintain independent living.
Barnet said all seven school districts in Spartanburg County have joined a Compassionate Schools program and that 1,500 school personnel have been trained through Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to better deal with disruptive student behavior.
And most recently, the task force announced plans for a peer-support living room at the former Access Health Spartanburg facility at 358 Serpentine Drive.
Michael Jameson of the Spartanburg Area Mental Health Center said the building was donated by Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, and that hiring is underway for peer support staff and counselors.
The facility will have an annual budget of $250,000 and become a model for other peer support facilities statewide, officials have said. No opening date has been announced yet.
Task force members said it will be similar to a peer-support living room in Asheville, N.C., which offers group support in a home-like environment with a kitchen, dining table and spaces for talking, reading, listening to music or using a computer.
Dr. William Powell, director of the Spartanburg Area Mental Health Center, said telepsychiatry has expanded to mental health centers in Union and Cherokee counties, and Barnet said it is being expanded to local doctors’ offices. The system enables doctors to link with psychiatrists across the state to help diagnosis a patient’s condition.
A $500,000 Duke Endowment grant was awarded to the task force last year to expand telepsychiatry in Spartanburg.
Carey Rothschild, director of Access Health and the Spartanburg Healthy Outcomes Program, said some 13,000 adults live below the poverty level and are uninsured, a segment that Access Health tries to connect with local health care providers.
She said progress has been made to provide housing and transportation for patients in need.