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AG Healey Awards $2.9 Million in Mental Health Diversionary Services Grants

January 2023

Read the original article at mass.gov


BOSTON — As Massachusetts hospitals and health care providers face heightened demand for urgent mental health services, Attorney General Maura Healey today announced that nearly $2.9 million has been awarded to 11 organizations across Massachusetts as part of her office’s new grant program to mitigate the impact of patients boarding in hospital emergency departments and inpatient beds.

The Mental Health Diversionary Services Grant Program is supporting nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts that provide services that appropriately divert patients in need of urgent mental health care to access treatment without needing to go through a hospital’s emergency department. Funding for the program came in part from the nearly $1 million received as part of the AG’s behavioral health parity settlements in 2019 and 2020.

“The demand for urgent mental health care services across the state has placed unprecedented pressure on our hospital emergency departments and overall capacity,” said AG Healey. “This innovative new grant program will help address existing shortfalls and help ensure that residents in need of mental health care services receive appropriate support.”

Emergency department (ED) boarding happens when a patient in need of mental health services must wait in an emergency department or medical-surgical bed—sometimes for days or even weeks— until a psychiatric bed, or other appropriate services, become available. Emergency department boarding of mental health patients has been a longstanding issue in Massachusetts but has increased dramatically in recent years. Conditions contributing to the so-called boarding crisis, including the increased demand for mental health services and staffing shortages, have escalated the need for the type of community-based crisis care that will be funded through this grant program.

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association (MHA) publishes weekly data provided by Massachusetts acute care hospitals on the number of patients who are waiting in the hospital for a mental health evaluation or for an available psychiatric inpatient bed. A data “snapshot” from December 19, the most recent MHA report, shows 666 total patients in these categories, including 111 pediatric patients.

Grant funds were awarded to the following organizations:

  • Advocates, Inc.’s Friendship Project: Framingham-based Advocates will utilize grant funding to continue its successful Friendship Project, which creates connections and support for MetroWest residents in need of mental health care by matching them with trained and committed volunteers who help alleviate clients’ social isolation through house visits and outings in the community, among other activities. Advocates will use the grant to sustain and expand the program through the employment and work of a Volunteer Coordinator, training and public outreach efforts and community events and outings for volunteers and participants.
  • Aspire Health Alliance – Enhanced Mobile Respite Services: Aspire will use the grant to expand outreach efforts and service capacity of its Mobile Respite program, which provides ED diversionary services to adults in Norfolk and Plymouth counties seeking behavioral health care at South Shore Hospital’s ED and Aspire’s community-based crisis locations, including by hiring an additional case worker and certified peer specialist.
  • Boston Children’s Hospital – Youth Villages Partnership: Boston Children’s Hospital will partner with Youth Villages to extend its evidence-based, trauma-informed Intercept for Emergency Diversion to 10 youth, allowing them to be safely discharged from the hospital and receive home-based interventions that will reduce the likelihood of future hospitalizations.
  • Cambridge Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team (HEART): Cambridge HEART will use the grant to purchase and outfit a van for mobile crisis response and to engage in public outreach efforts.
  • Franciscan Children’s/Children’s Wellness Initiative: Franciscan will use the grant to add resources for more sustained follow up coordination with Suffolk County students enrolled in its school-based mental health program once the students are discharged from the ED/hospital, including home-based phone and video after-care support.
  • Lawrence General Hospital (LGH): With the grant, LGH intends to add a bilingual (Spanish/English) Behavioral Health Coordinator who will provide intensive case management following a behavioral health-related ED visit, including ensuring that individuals have access to medications and receive the services they need in the community, including peer support services, after discharge.
  • Lowell General Hospital: Lowell General will use the grant to fund the employment of a Behavioral Health Support Specialist within its ED Diversionary Services program. Using screening tools to assess unmet social determinants of health needs, as well as clinical recommendations, the Support Specialist will link high-utilizing behavioral health patients and their families to services addressing these needs; help patients navigate and implement discharge plans; initiate post-discharge contact to assess barriers to services; and, as necessary, act as a liaison with the court and school systems.
  • L.U.K. Crisis Center, Inc.: LUK will use the grant to support an array of interventions designed to promote ED diversion, including staff, caregiver and foster parent training in trauma-informed de-escalation strategies so that central Massachusetts youth approaching crisis can be stabilized in a home or community setting rather than accessing an ED; assembly of age-appropriate “calming kits” to be used to de-escalate potential crisis situations; and hiring a care coordinator to work with youth who have accessed an ED for mental health care to develop and implement strategies to avoid re-accessing the ED in future situations.
  • Open Sky Community Services: Worcester County-based Open Sky will use the grant to hire a “Family Partner” to aid family members in navigating and accessing support services and to provide direct support in accordance with their own lived experience; and a “Team Leader” to triage hospital referrals, assign cases and provide general program oversight.
  • Riverside Community Care’s Mobile Respite Diversion Program: Riverside will use the grant to hire a Certified Peer Specialist, a position not currently funded and an identified “priority need” that will allow Riverside to expand the scope of its Mobile Respite Program in south central Worcester and Norfolk counties. The Certified Peer Specialist will assist with program engagement; aid clients in accessing support services; and provide information, based on their lived experience, on recovery, rehabilitation and self-management.
  • Veterans Inc.’s Veterans Assertive Outreach and Engagement: With the grant, Worcester-based Veteran’s Inc. intends to add a Masters-level “diversion” clinician to its Veteran Assertive Outreach and Engagement team to work with veterans identified by the program as a suicide risk. The clinician’s duties will include providing crisis assessments during community and home visits, engaging in short-term crisis counseling as needed and providing ongoing assessment of a participant’s mental health condition.

The AG’s Mental Health Diversionary Services Grant program was developed by Assistant Attorney General Lisa Gaulin and Health Care Analyst Maeva Veillard, both of the AG’s Health Care Division, and is managed by Nathan Gardner, Director of the AG’s Grants Management office.

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