New Perspectives director Jim Fouts is a nationally-renowned expert in crisis services
Every December, the phone rings at Hope House, RHD’s crisis service in Bethlehem, Pa., and the voice on the other end of the line always says the same thing:
“Every December I get a call from a consumer that was here six years ago — severely depressed, a lot of physical problems, homeless,’’ Hope House director Aaik Van Munster said. “He was at the end of his rope. We helped him get housing, we linked him with a treatment team. Every year, he calls and the conversation is more or less the same: ‘Well, can you believe it? I never thought I’d pulled this off, I have an apartment, I’m so much better.’ He shares all the things he’s grateful for.
“Every December. It’s always a nice way to mark the holidays.”
Resources for Human Development operates crisis services in Pennsylvania and Louisiana and has been at the forefront of developing a model that works in any setting. Hope House offers short-term residential accommodations for people in crisis, while Mobile Crisis Services in New Orleans offers immediate 24/7 support in the field.
New Perspectives in Stroudsburg, Pa., runs the gamut – a short-term residential program, a 24/7 telephone crisis and emergency counseling service, and a mobile crisis intervention service that can respond in the community.
The crisis teams not only provides an immediate response to a mental health issue, but they control and diffuse difficult situations before they escalate. Their interventions cut down on police involvement and provide alternatives to hospitalization, responding faster and offering better results through more personal care — all at a lower cost to the community.
National crisis-services expert
“There’s a need for us to hold people’s hands until they get into the system,” said Jim Fouts, director of New Perspectives. “Our purpose is to carry the hope. Sometimes hope is hard to have, and people need someone to carry that hope for them for a while, help them find the resiliency to get through this. That’s hope.”
Fouts is a nationally renowned expert in crisis services who helps other states set up their own system based on the SALTS crisis intervention model developed at New Perspectives. SALTS stands for: Stabilize, Assess, Link up services, Teach skills, and Safety plan.
Fouts speaks regularly at national conferences and recently government officials in Australia contacted him to help operate crisis intervention services there.
In the last five years, 95 percent of the people who’ve gone through New Perspectives reported improvement. And those that rated “improved” showed improvement by 75 percent. Less than 3 percent of New Perspectives clients have needed to be hospitalized within 30 days of admission.
“It’s rare that one can walk into a place full of strangers and feel welcome, comfortable and safe,’’ said Katie, a New Perspectives client. “I’ve never been treated with so much respect. I’m forever grateful and thankful.”
“I am really appreciative of New Perspectives,’’ Bobby said. “This place has a special place in my heart. I have been in the system for three years and never have had such a drastic turnaround in such a short time. I have never felt this good since my illness began.”
While crisis services typically have a focus on urgency, RHD’s crisis services have been successful because of extra attention on long-term growth.
“We spend a lot more time, after the situation has calmed down, on preventative psycho-educational stuff,’’ Fouts said. “The teaching is an important part of the program. We teach people about recovery, about coping skills. Especially with families, it’s: ‘What do you do next time?’
Sue was hospitalized five or six times a year for eight years with borderline personality disorder. Then she started coming to New Perspectives over a six-month period, and since then she’s never been hospitalized and in fact works full-time as a nurse’s aide in a local emergency room.
“We taught her skills to handle the pain she was in, methods of what to do when things fall apart,’’ Fouts said. “We provide a safe atmosphere, a place where you can come and feel safe. Then you can start working on things; it’s hard to tackle problems if you don’t feel safe and secure.”
Ability to improvise
While New Perspectives functions in a rural area with few resources, mobile crisis services can be a valuable resources for any community. In New Orleans, Mobile Crisis Service provides 24-hour crisis intervention for Jefferson Parish — the only service of its kind in the area.
MCS functions around the clock, and because there is no telling what each phone call will bring, they’re prepared to handle all manner of emergencies. The crisis calls MCS handles range from a person being out of medication, needing transportation to see a doctor, family members wanting assistance and guidance, to clients who report that they’re hearing voices and need help.
In a typical day, MCS gets upwards of 12 crisis calls, and workers on call in the evening receive between five and 10 calls a night. Some situations are handled over the phone. Some require crisis workers to go to the scene.
“We got a call from one of our residential facilities,’’ program coordinator Lisa Ruffin says. “One of our clients was not on her medication, and didn’t want to cooperate with the staff. She decided to walk off. I was doing something after work that day, so I had on some high heels. And for more than an hour, I walked up and down the main highway with this lady, keeping track of her so she didn’t run into traffic, trying to convince her to get in the car. It was the longest hour of my life. She’s verbally abusive, cursing me out, and I walked back and forth, trying to keep her safe. It was very stressful for both of us.
“While I was out there, my friends drove by. They kept calling me on my cell phone saying: ‘Is that you walking around the West Bank Expressway?’ Yes, it is. I can’t talk right now, but it’s me.
“Is that part of the job? Yes, that’s what we do.”
John Sitton, an MCS crisis evaluator, was on a call to a home recently in which police also responded.
“It was really a sweet, old lady who needed to go to the hospital,’’ Sitton recalled. “She couldn’t get in and out of bed; she was in a wheelchair. She didn’t want to leave the house, because she needed somebody to take care of her dog.
“She didn’t have anybody. Her caregiver had left three days ago, and she had not eaten or bathed. She was not capable of moving herself. But she would not go to the hospital and leave her dog.
“It was a cute, little puppy, too.”
Sitton called the local Humane Society and brokered a deal, so the dog could be boarded while the client was in hospital. Satisfied that the dog would be cared for, the elderly woman agreed to go to the hospital.
“Every client is their own person,’’ Sitton says. “They deserve their humanity. And the system doesn’t always allow them to keep it. Every time you meet a client, you’re reminded how human their problems are. It’s tempting to think just about a client’s diagnosis. But here we had just a sweet, old lady who wanted to take care of her dog.’’
The ability to improvise and handle any situation is paramount to the success of crisis services.
“You’ve got to think on your feet and have confidence making quick decisions,’’ Fouts said.