Expanding access to mental-health services
By Jared C. Nicholson
The City of Lynn is making progress on an important step forward in how we serve the community. While there is still work to do, we wanted to provide an update and invite feedback.
We appreciate that the Lynn Racial Justice Coalition has been working to develop a vision for community access to mental- and behavioral-health services since the summer of 2020. My administration has made a commitment to implement a proposal that will work for the City and all of our residents.
We hired a team of consultants to help us develop a plan. They are: Health Resources in Action (HRiA), the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
The process that the consultants have run to allow us to develop a plan is nearing completion. As we are committed to moving forward with urgency, we are sharing the direction of our proposal, acknowledging that there are still questions to be answered.
The Commonwealth has created a program providing easy access to mental health services through the establishment of a Behavioral Health Help Line to be administered by licensed behavioral health centers. Eliot Community Human Services is participating in this program. We are proposing that the City and community leaders team with Eliot on the Community Behavioral Health Center (CHBC) initiative.
We want people to get the care and assistance they need, when they need it. We believe there is an opportunity for the City and community leaders to take advantage of a collaborative partnership with Eliot, which is critical in understanding the landscape of mental health needs across the City. We will be able to elevate the need for health-first, culturally- and trauma-informed responses to calls.
Eliot has already assembled an impressive array of resources. They are hiring five teams of 12 professionals, including prescribers, nurses, case workers, and managers. The learning curve for any new organization to build Eliot’s clinical skills and expertise would be daunting and require years to build, and there is urgency for these services to be offered now. Through this new initiative, we are committed to addressing long-standing issues such as systemic racism and lack of culturally competent resources.
The CBHC is slated to provide a full suite of outpatient and crisis services for adults and youth and will be obligated to meet timelines through its contract with the state. It will be reachable via a dedicated hotline (different from 911) and staffed 24/7.
With the City’s involvement, the new team that Eliot is forming will be able to work with residents who are not covered by MassHealth. It will also be able to involve more people with lived experiences that reflect the concerns of those who will be the focus of the team’s response (e.g., individuals who have navigated mental health challenges or systemic racism), spend more time building relationships in the community, and respond to needs other than just behavioral health, such as assisting unsheltered residents.
It will also help facilitate the provision of wrap-around services, care navigation, and close feedback loops from the City and its partners. Working with Eliot in this capacity will allow for resource sharing across City departments and agencies, helping to coordinate the provision of care and follow up across different organizations.
The City and the community can set goals for this new team to provide services in a culturally competent fashion and can help accomplish this by pushing for hiring that is reflective of the community. We can help oversee the delivery of training in important skills such as de-escalation, harm reduction, and cultural humility.
Launching this effort will be done in concert with ongoing initiatives and priorities, such as trauma-informed training for City personnel and efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce across City departments.
Important questions about how this new program will work remain, but we are committed to addressing them with the various stakeholders. These include how the new program will interact with public safety, whether there are collective bargaining concerns with public safety unions, branding and publicizing the initiative to differentiate this team from other programs, and City and community oversight and accountability (including the formation of a community advisory group).
Ultimately, this new program will offer Lynn residents the opportunity to access support services that address a range of non-violent and non-life-threatening emergencies and it will help the City address the root causes of issues and reduce cycles of trauma. We look forward to continuing to work with all involved as well as the addition of Eliot’s Community Behavioral Health Center.
Jared C. Nicholson is mayor of Lynn.