WestMass ElderCare launches mental health outreach team

  • Social worker Bethany Tabb is a member of a new Elder Mental Health Outreach Team at WestMass ElderCare. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 3/17/2023 4:02:22 PM

HOLYOKE – Adults 60 and older can now access mental health support in their own homes and at community sites thanks to a new mental health outreach team launched by WestMass ElderCare earlier this year. 

WMEC is a Holyoke-based nonprofit that provides resources, information and long-term care to older adults and people with disabilities. The organization recognized a need for mental health support systems in the older adult community and in response, with the help of a grant, created the Elder Mental Health Outreach Team.

“Our overall goal is to basically increase our network’s ability to provide mental health support to underserved communities,” said Tammy Dumas at WMEC.

According to the World Health Organization, around 15% of adults aged 60 and older have a mental health disorder.

“Aging comes with increased isolation and sometimes increased mental health challenges related to that,” said Sarah Aasheim, director of community programs at WMEC. “And we’ve certainly seen that the impacts of the pandemic really reinforced the isolation… We wanted to create this resource so that we could help make mental health care more accessible to them.”

In partnership with the Belchertown, Chicopee, Hadley, South Hadley and Ware Councils on Aging, the mental health team has provided support to about 30 people since launching the program in January.

“Our role is kind of bridging the gap between the consumers and getting them connected with providers,” said Bethany Tabb, care manager at WMEC who serves as the social worker on the team. “In the interim, I can meet with them for short-term counseling while getting them in with behavioral health services more long term.”

Karen Sander-Buscemi, a nurse practitioner, will also be involved with medication issues and advocacy with providers.

The team also coordinates prevention efforts, meaning stopping or reducing issues before they arise, which involves preemptive identification of signs and symptoms. One issue the team looks at is repeat hospitalizations, where people are discharged from the hospital, do not receive the support they need from the community, and end up in the hospital again for the same reason. The outreach team seeks to provide that mental health support that is currently missing.

“We hope to advance the health and well-being of older adults by offering more flexible kinds of behavioral health services,” said Tabb. “There are waitlists for everything, and we’re trying to work through that and advocate for these clients to get connected sooner.”

For more information about the new service, call 413-538-9020 or visit https://bit.ly/3JqGOap

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