By Allen Turner
Columbus County will soon have a central location where people in need of immediate help with a mental crisis or substance abuse issue can walk in and see a counselor.
Leza Wainwright, CEO of Trillium Health Resources, told county commissioners Monday night that Trillium will provide a walk-in center in Whiteville when it becomes the provider of mental health/developmental disabilities/substance abuse services July 1.
Commissioners voted several months ago to “disengage” from the current provider, Eastpointe, and recently obtained state approval to make the switch to Trillium. Commissioners had been unhappy for some time with Eastpointe, particularly with a lack of walk-in facilities in the county where people seeking services could find help.
One of the most vocal critics of Eastpointe has been Commissioner James Prevatte, who for the past four years sat as the county’s representative on the Eastpointe board of directors and before that served nine years on the board of Southeastern Regional Mental Health/Substance Abuse Services. Commissioners named Prevatte, along with Pat Ray, to fill one of two Columbus County seats on the Trillium board.
“I’m just excited about the progress Trillium already has made in making themselves a part of the community,” Prevatte said Wednesday. “I appreciate the way they have informed the people of the county about the availability of services, the way they’re seeking additional services for our citizens, and the way they’re listening – not just being there, but also listening – to the needs our people have expressed.”
Calling Trillium’s soon-to-be-opened walk-in facility a “big plus,” Prevatte said, “If someone comes in even without an appointment and say they need help, then Trillium’s going to talk to them and refer them to someone or somewhere that they can get assistance and get service.”
Prevatte also said he is impressed with Wainwright. “She’s all business,” he said, “but at the same time she is sympathetic to the needs of our people. We know some of the people who work with Trillium and we feel comfortable talking with them. Trillium has welcomed us with open arms to their family.”
Kim Smith, director of the Columbus County Health Department, echoed Prevatte’s comments about the switch to Trillium Wednesday. “I’ve been to one of their listening sessions and to another of their information sessions,” Smith said Wednesday. “So far, the sessions I’ve been to have been very helpful in helping us know what they’re going to bring to the county. I’ll be very interested to see where their local office will be and where we can contact them, and I’ll welcome having contact information for their crisis team members. I look forward to working with them and am excited about the possibilities.”
Wainwright told commissioners that Trillium is in the process of identifying a site in Whiteville where five new care coordinators will be available to help people with mental, intellectual and developmental disabilities. The site will fill another big need – substance abuse counseling where people seeking help can walk in without an appointment.
The company, which is headquartered in Greenville and serves 25 counties in North Carolina, has conducted a series of 13 “listening sessions” throughout the county recently to familiarize residents with the services they offer.
“We promised the people at those listening sessions that there will be no disruption of services for Columbus County residents with the change,” Wainwright told commissioners.
Like Eastpointe, Trillium uses contract service providers and already had contractual relationships with 27 of the providers that had been used by Eastpointe. “We didn’t have to do anything but add additional sites to their contracts,” she said.
In addition, Trillium already has contracted with another seven providers here and contract paperwork is being finished for three other providers to be able to offer services here by July 1.
She said if a provider already had prior authorization from Eastpointe to provide a service, Trillium will honor that authorization. “We don’t want to get in the way of people getting services,” she said.
Wainwright said that in the listening sessions, her staff learned that families of users of services fell into two categories: those who felt their loved ones were getting good service under Trillium and wanted to make sure those services would continue and those who felt there have been gaps in services and who were interested in how Trillium would address those gaps.
“We promised families at the listening sessions that everything that has been working well will continue to work as it has,” she said. “We have contracted with every provider who was serving Columbus County under Eastpointe, so there will be no gaps and people won’t have to change providers if they are happy where they were. There will be no disruption.”
In addition to the 13 listening sessions, Trillium has held two information sessions in Whiteville for stakeholders such as the Dept. of Social Services, Health Department, Columbus Regional Healthcare and Columbus County Sheriff’s Office. It also took part in the recent hurricane expo here.
In addition, the company has issued a request for proposals for someone to provide mobile crisis services. They have selected a provider for comprehensive mental and substance abuse services specifically for Columbus County. That provider will also offer outpatient behavioral health services, case management services, trauma services and children and adult mental health/developmental disabilities/substance abuse services, including an intensive three-days-a-week outpatient substance abuse program. Walk-in services will also be provided.
Trillium will enter a contract at the end of the month for a provider to offer school-based mental health services and already has developed a relationship with Columbus County Parks and Recreation. The company offers a four-week day camp this summer for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and the camp will be expanded to eight weeks next summer.
Trillium will also offer what Wainwright called an “evidence-based practice” called Child First in which a licensed clinician trained to deal with child trauma is teamed with another person who helps the affected families deal with other issues such as food insecurity and living arrangements. “These two-person teams will help family members with issues and work therapeutically with children up to 6 years old. And that service will go to the family home; they won’t have to come into an office to get help.
“We are going to do everything we can do to make sure people get into services as quickly as possible,” she added. “If a person already knows a provider in their community they want to go through, that is fine with us. We don’t require them to go through us as the middleman to say it’s OK. The same thing goes for somebody in crisis. If someone wants to call the mobile crisis provider directly to expedite service, we’re great with that. We don’t need to be in the middle of that transaction if it’s going to slow down services.”
Conversely, if someone needing assistance doesn’t know what provider they want or don’t know who they want to see, Wainwright said Trillium is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year through their toll free phone number, 877-685-2415. “We will connect that person who calls with either emergency services or with a long-term provider.”