Youth mental health response team coming to Acadiana

Sign that reads The Extra Mile
Local nonprofit the Extra Mile was selected to lead a new mobile mental health crisis response team. Photo by Alena Maschke

A new mobile response team tasked with assisting youth and their families in moments of crisis will be hitting the streets this summer. After a lengthy selection and training process, Lafayette based nonprofit The Extra Mile will be running the program, which is part of an effort by the Louisiana Department of Health to expand resources for youth experiencing mental health challenges.

“The families that we serve have needed this for a long time,” said Evangeline Blanchard, director of the organization’s Family Resource Center and Home Builders program, which assists families whose children are at risk of being placed in foster care or are being reunified after they were in foster care.

The crisis response program consists of two main services, an immediate visit with the young person while they’re in crisis and a two-week follow up period to assist with medication management, resources the family might need and connection to more long-term services, such as counseling, if necessary.

“When you go out and you’re dealing with a youth in crisis, you’re really dealing with two crises at the same time,” The Extra Mile Executive Director George Mills said. The mobile response team’s role then is to work with both the child or adolescent and their family to de-escalate and get them connected to the proper services. 

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The program is aimed at assisting Medicaid-enrolled youth in crisis, but will be open to all callers. LDH will be providing some start-up funding, according to Mills. The service will be available across Acadiana, although response times to rural destinations may be longer.

According to Blanchard and Mills, part of the goal of deploying the program is to reduce hospitalizations. “Does every child that goes into crisis need to be hospitalized? Absolutely not,” Mills said. “Because that, in effect, can cause more trauma, and escalate things.” 

For children and adolescents, becoming hospitalized often means being shipped hours away from their family and support systems. LDH is currently fighting a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center that alleges that the department provides insufficient resources to Medicaid-enrolled youth experiencing mental health issues, leading to unnecessary hospitalizations.

The Extra Mile is in the process of hiring the additional 10 team members that will comprise the mobile crisis response team. Each team will consist of a mental health professional and a peer support specialist, someone who has lived experience with a child or adolescent experiencing mental health challenges.

Peer support has become an increasingly popular approach in the mental health space. It has been a vital part of The Extra Mile’s work for a long time, said Blanchard. The organization will also be training the state’s partners in other regions on the peer support component of the mobile response program.

“We believe in the power of lived experience,” Blanchard said. “The right peer is incredibly beneficial.” Other local organizations have also deployed peer support initiatives, for example to reduce drug overdoses. 

Finding those peers to hire can be challenging, however. “Some of them just want to put it behind them,” Blanchard said of the very experiences that make peers so valuable in mental health crisis management. The organization is currently still looking for peers to add to its team. If all goes according to plan, they hope to roll out the mobile response unit at the beginning of July.

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