Quietly operating out of an unassuming building in Dorchester County, the Eastern Shore Operation Center of the Eastern Shore Crisis Response Service is saving lives.
Phone counselors at the Center’s Eastern Shore Crisis Response and Resource Helpline work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help prevent suicides, homicides, unnecessary hospitalizations, arrests or detention, and to reduce dangerous or threatening situations involving individuals in need of behavioral health services.
“The program has grown progressively each year,” says Lynn Gurley, LCSW-C, Clinical Coordinator of the Eastern Shore Operation Center. “This is in part due to people with chronic mental health issues using us instead of going to the hospital and the word is getting out and people now know what we do.”
Sponsored by The Eastern Shore Crisis Response Services of the Affiliated Santé Group, the crisis response helpline serves the nine counties of the Eastern Shore from Cecil to Worcester counties offering telephone support for individuals and family members in crisis. The crisis response helpline has three daytime counselors who work from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
All counselors are trained clinicians and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Health and Human Services, plus a five-year crisis response helpline experience. In addition, phone counselors participate in a special training program which uses a curriculum developed by Gurley.
Through a grant from the Rural Maryland Council, the agency just added a new counselor position to cover 4 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday as evening call volume has been steadily increasing. The new evening position will replace after-hours staff who worked from home during the week.
There are seven after-hours contractual phone counselors with the crisis response helpline who work on weekends and holidays from 8 a.m. to midnight. The Baltimore County Crisis Center provides crisis response helpline counselors from midnight to 8 a.m. daily.
“The key to the crisis delivery system is the helpline," said Carol Masden, LCSW-C, Director of Eastern Shore Crisis Response. During fiscal year 2016, the Eastern Shore Operations Center, where the crisis response helpline operates, assisted 6,361 callers.
“With our most recent changes there are no disruptions in services to the nine counties we serve,” she adds. “We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico and Worcester counties.”
One of the key services that the crisis response helpline offers is counseling at the time of the call, says Gurley. The phone counselors assess the situation using a six-step Crisis Intervention Model, assessing the situation and identifying the problem. The phone counselor can also walk the caller through exercises and suggest support that can help with managing the crisis.
“We express empathy to the caller, brainstorm ideas for services which can benefit them, and make a plan with them for next steps,” Gurley says. “Our model is person-centered, so each caller is a part of making the plan.”
Services provided through the crisis response helpline include connecting callers to behavioral health appointments in facilities across the Shore, and each caller has an Electronic Case Record which enables phone counselors to follow up with callers on the same day for any unresolved issues and to be sure they have gone to scheduled appointments with providers.
“A significant percentage of our helpline calls come from parents and foster parents who are struggling with children suffering from severe behavioral health issues, which are oftentimes the result of past trauma,” says phone counselor Katherine Harrison. “We can provide counseling on the phone, and assist with linking them to outpatient behavioral health treatment if needed. If we can’t be successful on the phone, we can then dispatch a Mobile Crisis Team to the home.”
Additional services provided by the crisis response helpline include coordination with law enforcement and other emergency personnel when more serious mental health issues arise. Eastern Shore Crisis Response provides ongoing Crisis Intervention Team training for law enforcement about mental health and substance use issues.
The Eastern Shore Crisis Response Mobile Crisis Teams are available between 9 a.m. and midnight seven days a week, 365 days a year. Teams are available in all the Eastern Shore counties but Worcester County, which already has a mobile crisis team in place.
The crisis response helpline cannot provide transportation assistance for callers or give medical or legal advice or ongoing therapy to callers.
A number of agencies partner with Eastern Shore Crisis Response to provide care to crisis response Helpline callers, including Mid-Shore Behavioral Health Services, which provides referrals, shares cases and provides peer review for Eastern Shore Crisis Response.
For immediate support, access the Eastern Shore Crisis Response and Resource Helpline at 888-407-8018.
The Affiliated Santé Group (Santé), a dynamic and leading provider of crisis psychiatric care and system management services to public and private entities, is the largest provider of crisis services in Maryland. Santé, a nonprofit entity, also manages mental health outreach and psychiatric recovery services. It has been delivering mental health care to individuals and families and pioneering new treatment modalities since 1974. For further information about the Affiliated Santé Group, visit www.thesantegroup.org.