Volunteers of America Eastern Washington will add behavioral health services with $4 million federal grant

Volunteers of America plans to integrate behavioral health care with their Spokane housing programs with the help of a $4 million grant announced Tuesday from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

With a lack of behavioral health resources in the Spokane area, program leaders realized early on in the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to provide more in-depth services to help people succeed once they were housed, said Development Director Beth McCray.

“There aren’t enough resources in the community,” McCray said. “We can’t take care of everyone in need.”

It decided to become a volunteer-certified community behavioral health clinic in Eastern Washington, USA.

“We wanted to start providing more in-depth services so that we could succeed in housing and stay in housing,” she said.

VOA operates 15 local programs, including three shelters: Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter and The Young Adult Shelter, along with a permanent supportive housing program. The program will provide integrated care, meaning behavioral health clinicians will connect with people’s existing care teams, McCray said.

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People who are homeless often have trauma that caused them to lose their homes, McCray said. She said they are also traumatized while living on the streets.

They’re used to being in survival mode, worried about where they’ll sleep that night or their next meal, McCray said.

“Every single person who’s homeless right now, I guarantee you’re depressed,” she said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t.”

McRae said it was quiet after settling in. People spend more time alone and it can be difficult to adjust, she said. They may also discover chronic health problems they weren’t aware of until they were in a safe place away from the stress of homelessness, McCray said.

At that point, they need to work on processing and healing their trauma to move toward their goals, McCray said.

“That kind of disappears, and then the next thing they need to work on is the trauma of being homeless or the trauma that homelessness creates,” McCray said. That’s where we need behavioral health care to really address those issues so that people can move forward healthily.

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After deciding to add behavioral health to their services, VOA conducted an assessment to find out what the people in their programs needed. Then they reached out to existing community providers for advice, McCray said.

In January, VOA hired Esa Lariviere as vice president of integrated care. They applied for the SAMHSA grant, which they received on September 29.

Over the next year, the program will hire additional physicians, medical officers and a medical director. Those providers will often join existing care teams of people that include a peer support specialist and a case manager.

The program will complete all of its new licensing requirements with the health department, McCray said. By the end of the first year, they hope to have about 100 participants receiving behavioral health services.

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Most of those people will be in the permanent supportive housing program, McCray said. She added that there are currently about 220 people in the assisted housing program.

About 2,700 people use VOA services each year, but not all of them need behavioral health care; She said some stay for a bus pass or use the shelter during transitional periods in their lives.

The program should add about 100 participants each year, with a goal of 500 people receiving behavioral health care by the end of the four-year grant.

Becoming a certified community behavioral health clinic allows VOA to bill insurers for their services, which helps the program become sustainable, McRae said. There is also the option to extend the SAMHSA grant after the initial four years, she said. The new certifications will make VOA eligible for new grants, McRae added.

The nonprofit also relies on local donors and community fundraising.

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