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New in-home mental health assistance offered to Macomb County families

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published March 16, 2020

 Macomb County Community Mental Health has instituted a new program to better address the mental health needs of local youths in the community.

Macomb County Community Mental Health has instituted a new program to better address the mental health needs of local youths in the community.

Photo provided by David Pankotai


MACOMB COUNTY — When it comes to issues of mental health, sometimes people can’t wait to make an appointment or drive to see a professional — and that is twice as true for kids.

That’s why Macomb County Community Mental Health recently began a new program to bring mental health and counselling services directly to young people who need it through its new Children’s Mobile Crisis Unit.

“It can take place in the home, at a school — anywhere and anytime they could use some extra support,” said Roxanne Mitchell, one of the therapists in the unit. “In the moment of crisis, you can’t always come down to an office or wait to make an appointment. It helps prevent hospitalization or involve the police or an ambulance when not necessary. That can cause even more trauma to a child going through a crisis.”

The service will allow residents to reach out to trained professionals during a time of crisis by giving them an alternative to calling 911. Such crises could include suicidal or homicidal thoughts, physical aggression, uncontrolled tantrums or anything a parent or guardian feels qualifies as a “crisis.”

Within one hour, a professional such as Mitchell will arrive at the home.

“We are there for any crisis they have, and they get to deem what is or isn’t a crisis,” she said. “We will come to the home and provide a parent support partner who has been through these issues with a child before. I will speak to the child and use de-escalation techniques and see if they need to be streamlined into a different level of care, or see if there is some other way we could help them.”

David Pankotai, the CEO of Macomb County Community Mental Health, said the primary goal of the Children’s Mobile Crisis Unit is to make reaching out to get help easier and less obtrusive for local families.

“We wanted to keep children in their home as much as possible,” he explained. “Historically, without this service, they would go to the hospital or go through a telephone screen and have a higher likelihood they end up in a psychiatric facility. We have been able to increase the diversion rate so they can stay at home and not be hospitalized.”

To utilize the service, the child must live in Macomb County, have active Medicaid or be uninsured and be under the age of 21. Calls can be made by the youth or by adults.

“It’s usually triggered by parents or guardians, but the minor could call as well. We would contact the parent as well if that’s the case. Also a teacher or someone could call as well, and we would similarly follow up with the family,” said Pankotai. “We started rolling it out last fall. We are using existing staff, so there was no ramp-up period. We are tracking the calls and requests. We’re open for calls from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.”

The number to call is (586) 307-9100.

Those responding to the calls are master’s degree-level clinicians who have experience working with children.

“There are numerous issues we might address,” said Mitchell. “This could be suicidal thoughts or feelings, relationship problems, abuse or violence. There’s a myriad of mental health issues that could make them feel depressed or bullied. There are even cases such as psychotic breaks due to trauma.”

Following the call, the therapists would recommend subsequent assistance, usually assistance offered by Macomb County Community Mental Health.

“Typically what would happen is a certain percentage would be referred to in-patient psychiatric services,” said Pankotai. “We always offer referrals so they could talk to their outpatient provider or connect them to one if they don’t have one in place. We have a partial hospital program, which operates Monday through Friday, and they return to their home in the evenings and weekends. We have a short-term psychiatric program, and programs such as the Parent Support Partners group.”

Pankotai said that seeking mental health assistance can often result in unnecessary emergency room stays, long wait times and even unneeded medical costs.

“What we are trying to do is prevent unnecessary emergency room stays,” he said. “We want to provide a catchall contact point so people don’t have to find the right number or the right department; they can just call us.”

Mitchell said the help offered can make a big difference for families navigating a difficult period in their lives.

“I love connecting with people and getting them help,” she remarked. “It can be hard navigating the mental health system, especially with children, and this should help prevent them from being bounced around from place to place or getting lost without knowing who or where they can turn to.”