Survey highlights impacts of elder mental health outreach

EMHOT Social Worker Shaina Benoit uses videoconferencing to connect with her colleague Courtney Johnson. Video conferencing has been an essential tool for the program during the Coronavirus, helping social workers maintain connections with older adults facing behavioral health challenges.

A Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) program dedicated to helping older adults with behavioral health conditions is earning high marks from participants, even amid the pandemic.

The Elder Mental Health Outreach Team (EMHOT) provides case management and short-term counseling for issues such as poor self-care, substance use, hoarding, depression or anxiety.

We recently surveyed program participants and received the following response:

  • 94% felt the program helped them deal better with daily challenges and crises.
  • 94% said they are more aware of helpful resources.
  • 94% said they received the help they were looking for.
  • More than two-thirds said their symptoms improved.
  • 100% said staff cared about what they had to say and treated them with respect.

SCES Clinical Director Stephanie Becker said the results illustrate EMHOT’s impact for clients, who in many cases are under increased stress due to the pandemic.

“This program has been so important for the people we serve,” said Becker. “The regular meetings with our social workers have helped mitigate isolation and anxiety due to COVID, and many of the clients we work with would not have any other formal support, if not for EMHOT.”

EMHOT was established in 2018, with help from a state grant that recognizes older adults are traditionally under-served when it comes to behavioral health.

The Mass Aging and Mental Health Coalition advises that many people over 55 who experience behavioral health challenges do not seek help due to lack of transportation, isolation, or stigma.

The EMHOT model seeks to remove those barriers by providing in-home assistance. While the pandemic has shifted the focus to telephone and videoconferencing, Becker said it’s still effective.

“It has been an adjustment, but we are still able to tailor our work to the client’s needs, providing a combination of home-based case management and telephonic support,” she said.

EMHOT Social Worker Cassie Cramer added that the widespread shift to remote meetings has actually helped reduce one longtime obstacle for many clients.

“In some ways getting help is easier than ever, as transportation is no longer a barrier for people to meet with a therapist or other behavioral health provider,” said Cramer.

The survey also asked clients how the program is helpful. This was one of the responses:

“I don’t know where to start,” wrote the client. “The social worker helped me so much, she found me a place to live and connected me to so many resources. I was homeless and I don’t know where I would’ve been without this program. She also got me a therapist I enjoy working with. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this program.”

EMHOT is available free-of-charge for Cambridge and Somerville residents who are age 50 and over. Referrals to EMHOT can be made by calling the SCES Aging Information Center at 617-628-2601 or emailing

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.