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Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare: Extending hope to those who don’t have it

Posted on Jul. 31, 2018 ( comments)
Greater Lakes therapist Chloe Gray, MA, talks with a patient.

MultiCare announced plans in March to affiliate with Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare, based in Lakewood. The affiliation is official as of July 1.

Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare operates from a succinct and inspiring vision: Empowering hope, relief and recovery.

“We look at our job as extending hope to people who don’t have it,” says Terri L. Card, President and CEO of Greater Lakes. “We make sure they have every opportunity to recover, just like everybody else. It’s the foundation of what we do.”

To help make this possible, Greater Lakes trains its entire workforce — not just its clinical staff — in trauma-informed care, which emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both providers and patients.

About 90 percent of people who come into public mental health for care have experienced trauma one way or another, says Glenn Czerwinski, Chief Operating Officer of Greater Lakes.

“People with trauma often feel unsafe, so creating an atmosphere of safety through a clean and welcoming environment that is quiet and engaging is very important,” Czerwinski says.

Greater Lakes serves 4,200 patients (adults and children) on an outpatient basis every month, making this its biggest service. It’s same-day access, meaning that someone can walk in or call and get seen that day.

“Accessibility is really an important component of care for our clients because timely service is everything,” Card says. “If people can’t access services when they’re ready, they don’t access them at all.

“One of the failings of public mental health is how long people have to wait,” she continues. “People in a moment of crisis are willing to get help, but when the crisis is averted or dimmed, they settle back into routine. It’s important to be available when people are open to it.”

Another way Greater Lakes has made mental health more accessible is by opening clinics in underserved locations such as Spanaway and 72nd Street & Portland Avenue in Tacoma, both places with a large concentration of people on Medicaid — but no nearby mental health resources.

“It’s important to us that we bring services to locations people need them,” Card says.

Greater Lakes also offers help to the homeless and incarcerated. Here are a few of their programs:

Felony Mental Health Court

Anyone in Pierce County who commits a felony as a result of mental illness is eligible to be referred into this program. Instead of jail or prison, the program offers mental health services and the possibility of dismissing the felony charges if they successfully complete the program.

“Those who have felonies have an extremely difficult time accessing housing, getting employment and having a variety of other social needs met,” says Czerwinski.

Community Reentry Program

This program is designed to identify individuals in Pierce County jails who are in and out of jail, emergency rooms and so on, often due to mental health challenges.

“This program wraps services around these individuals to get whatever they need so they don’t reoffend and can re-enter the community,” Czerwinski says.

Greater Lakes’ robust staff for this program includes nurses, chemical dependency professionals, case managers, therapists and peer counselors who have experienced similar challenges and can more easily relate to clients.

Jail Transition Services

Greater Lakes embeds counselors in Pierce County jails for this program. As individuals are booked, these counselors screen them for mental health issues and develop a re-entry plan for those who want help.

At time of release, these clients are connected with community staff who help them access Medicaid and other services in the community they might not otherwise know how to obtain.

“We provide that level of support and get them connected with mental health; that’s why we’re there,” Czerwinski says.

Co-Responder Program

Also known as the COPS program, Greater Lakes partners with the Lakewood Police Department to respond to calls that require intervention by a mental health professional. The goal is to avoid arrest and instead direct people to the appropriate services in the community.

“Our mental health professionals conduct quick assessments in the field and triage the kind of services the person might need so we’re diverting people from going to emergency rooms or jail,” Czerwinski says. “Those are two places police typically take individuals who are engaging in troubled behavior and who have potential mental health challenges.”

Homeless Outreach

Greater Lakes contracts with the state on a federal program called Project for Assistance for Transition from Homelessness (PATH). A team of counselors go into the field to known homeless sites to engage those who might be challenged with mental health and substance use problems.

“The idea is to develop a relationship with those who are homeless and have mental health issues and get them connected to services to we can hopefully stabilize them and get them onto a better path,” Czerwinski says.

There’s so little trust among the homeless population, Card says, so it’s important to spend time getting to know them and earning their trust. Giving them coupons, clothing and sleeping bags is part of that process — and when they’re more comfortable, getting them to the mental health services they need.

Learn more about Greater Lakes

Posted in: Behavioral Health

About The Author

Roxanne Cooke

Roxanne Cooke tells stories in words, photos and video. She manages VitalsKite Strings and Bring Happy Back, plus special projects such as CeCe's Journey24 Hours at Tacoma General Hospital and The Healthy Futures Project. You can reach her at [email protected]

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