Older adults facing mental health conditions are an underserved population, but Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) is looking to fill that gap with a new Elder Mental Health Outreach Team (EMHOT).
Launched in April, the EMHOT is dedicated to helping older adults who are at risk due to untreated behavioral health conditions. In practice, it gives SCES flexibility to work with elders who are facing a crisis, such as suicide risk or eviction for hoarding, explained SCES Clinical Director Annie Fowler.
“We have been able to do some creative things to help people in crisis,” said Fowler. “If we need to, we can spend a couple of hours with the client or visit them twice a week. We can’t offer that level of support over the long term, but we have the flexibility to help when there’s acute need.
Funded by a state grant, EMHOT provides in-home case management, short-term counseling, and local support groups. In applying for the grant, Fowler described timely and accessible mental health supports as a critical need in the community, listing higher hospitalization rates, declining health, and earlier nursing home admissions as common outcomes of unaddressed behavioral health issues.
EMHOT will look to build on the SCES Connect program, which is one of the few elder services programs in the state that provides in-home mental health supports. Connect, which is entirely funded by SCES, has historically only had the capacity to accept referrals from within the agency. Under the grant, SCES will take referrals from the broader community, including local health, aging, and public safety organizations, such as clinics, Councils on Aging, and police.
“A big part of this grant is collaboration and resource building,” said Cassie Cramer, a long-time SCES Community Social Worker and chair of the Mass Aging and Mental Health Coalition. “We’re working to strengthen the network of elder behavioral health care in our community.”
In addition to working with individuals, SCES will be partnering with local agencies to facilitate psycho-educational groups, such as Mind Body Connection, Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and Expressive Arts for Healing.
The Mass Aging and Mental Health Coalition was a key player in convincing lawmakers to approve the EMHOT grant. In advocating for the grant, the coalition noted that one in four people over the age of 55 experience behavioral health disorders that are not part of normal aging. Additionally older adults are much less likely to receive treatment due to factors such as lack of transportation, social isolation, and stigma associated with mental health.
Cramer said the EMHOT model has been successful for a handful of communities in Massachusetts, and was optimistic the grant will have an impact in Cambridge and Somerville.
“Older adults face a lot of unique challenges when it comes to accessing mental health services, and as a result they get the least amount of care. Our hope to bridge that gap, and provide a model for the state.”
Referrals to EMHOT can be made by calling the SCES Aging Information Center at 617-628-2601.
Funding for the EMHOT project was provided in part by the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging, under a Service Incentive Grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Any opinions expressed in this piece are solely the opinion of SCES.
Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) is a non-profit agency that supports the independence and well-being of older people in Somerville and Cambridge. For more information, visit eldercare.org, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or contact the SCES Aging Information Center at 617-628-2601 for free advice and guidance.