New Castle News

May 9, 2013

Local agency’s innovative program wins award

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The Human Services Center’s Mobile Medication Program now has an extra $25,000 to use for continued care.

The community-based mental health and substance abuse agency earned the first-ever National Innovations in Rural Health Award. The Mobile Medications Program was established in 2002 to reduce hospitalization costs for seriously mentally ill individuals in rural Pennsylvania.

At the Rural Health Award event, four finalists from around the country — including the local facility — presented their innovative ideas about how to tackle health issues in rural areas. Human Services Center was selected as the winner from nearly 200 submissions from across the U.S.

According to Dr. Dennis Nebel, executive director of the HSC, “Speaking for the staff and board, we are tremendously honored. We were chosen from not just mental health care providers, but health care providers in general.”

Financing these programs has become a constant challenge, so the $25,000 is welcomed and will be used to continue with the mission of the HSC in Lawrence County, Nebel explained.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, one of North Carolina’s largest private philanthropies, plans to explore possibilities for implementing the winning project in the state in the coming year.

“The charitable trust was looking for innovative ideas to be used in the rural community where people don’t normally have access to these types of services,” said Michele Kelly-Thompson, director of clinical services at HSC.

The Mobile Medications Program — paid with Medicaid-managed care — has been very effective and is one of many services the Human Services Center provides, Nebel said.  

It is a six-step, skill-building program that begins with an in-person visit to the patient for every dose of medication ordered, followed by a daily visit and scaling down to a weekly phone call before patients are discharged from the program. Mental health workers travel by van to their clients’ homes and have a broadband-enabled laptop that allows them to enter data on each client remotely. In its first year, the program helped reduce hospitalization costs in the area by more than $1.3 million.

Mobile Medications Program was developed in collaboration with Mental Health/Developmental Services to reduce inpatient costs and when Mayview Hospital was closed about 12 years ago, Kelly-Thompson noted.

“Ours is a service that works with the primary care physician and psychiatrist to provide the skills a person needs to take their medications effectively and consistently,” she said. “The main reason people wind up going back to the hospital is because they have stopped taking their medications.”

Currently, about 75 individuals are served a year, Kelly-Thompson said.

“About 50 percent of them complete the program in one year; 40 percent complete the program in 18 months and 10 percent of who we serve are there for an extended time because of the intensity of need.”

A psychiatric nurse coordinator oversees the Mobile Medications Program, which is also staffed by three full-time Mobile Medication workers and three part-time Mobile Medication workers — all who have experience working with individuals who have mental illness, Kelly-Thompson explained.

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)