An innovative program at Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic is quietly – but quickly – making a difference by sending licensed mental health specialists into the emergency department and on-site with law enforcement to work with people in need.
The Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, or CPEP as it is sometimes called, allows people who are in crisis the chance to get help in a dignified and compassionate way. Licensed mental health specialists either meet with people at Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic’s psychiatric emergency department – which offers a separate, more private area with calming and safety features – or the specialists travel into the surrounding communities.
“When law enforcement reaches out to us, we go see people at their homes or wherever they happen to be,” said Heidi Keyser, manager of CPEP. “We send two staff members in plain clothing, and we drive regular vehicles. No one knows who we are, so the patient’s privacy is protected, and we find that people open up more. Often, we can get them the help they need without a visit to the emergency department.”
Offering psychiatric evaluations in the emergency department keeps Heidi and her team busy, but in just the last few years, the calls for help in the community have almost doubled.
“We expect that to continue as more people find out about the service.”
The CPEP team answers calls in a four-county region, so staff members can find themselves traveling to towns within Wayne, Ontario, Yates or Seneca counties on any given day. Travel can easily take up several hours of a work day, so CPEP and Ontario County joined a pilot program to use video conferencing.
“If a patient might not need to come into the hospital, law enforcement will call us,” Heidi said. “We can do a Zoom evaluation process.”
Already the pilot program is so successful that Seneca and Yates counties joined.
“And since then, Canandaigua, Geneva and the Seneca Falls police departments purchased their own iPads to use for video conferencing with us.”
Once a month members of the CPEP team, law enforcement and other community groups meet to identify trends in the community – and to get to know one another a bit better.
“This way they can put names and faces together and get a sense of who they are calling,” Heidi said. “And we get to learn what they are seeing. Is there increased violence like we saw at the beginning of the pandemic? Are they seeing an increase in methamphetamine use? It helps us know how to prepare and what to expect.”
Heidi teaches at the Finger Lakes Police Academy and works with veteran officers, too, so they have more tools for supporting people in crisis.
“We’re all trying to reduce the stigma of mental health issues and let people in the community know that it’s OK to talk about it and get help.”
And Heidi couldn’t be prouder of the partnership.
“I love the work that we do,” she said. “It’s great to be at the forefront of patient care, and it’s great to know we’re helping people get the care they deserve.”
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