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At any time, help is on the line

September 1, 2006
by DOUGLAS J. EDWARDS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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ProtoCall helps organizations provide services beyond regular office hours


Most states require public behavioral health organizations to provide 24/7 coverage—a challenge many struggle to meet. It can be difficult to identify the demand for after-hours crisis services and almost impossible to staff such services at a clinically appropriate level without exhausting clinical staff and compromising overall productivity.

After-hours crisis management provided by a third party may offer a solution to small and midsize agencies, as well as those serving rural communities. ProtoCall Services, Inc., based in Portland, Oregon, is one such vendor, helping behavioral health agencies provide around-the-clock services to clients and other individuals in need. The company offers crisis counseling, assessment, and referral services by telephone.

“It is necessary but expensive to be available 24/7,” says Linda Rosenberg, MSW, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. “Traditionally, staffing choices have been limited to paying to staff a hotline overnight or requiring your clinicians to take calls during nights and weekends—which has a huge cost in productivity as well as staff time.”

Managing those costs is where ProtoCall steps in, according to Phil Evans, ProtoCall's president. ProtoCall serves as an outsourced call center with master's- and doctorate-level clinicians staffing the phones. “Our team can assess the call, make referrals to local resources, and provide crisis counseling when necessary,” reports Evans.

ProtoCall blends clinical expertise with technology, allowing behavioral health providers to expand and improve their services without expanding staff, costs, and operations. With an emphasis on partnership in service delivery, ProtoCall's clinicians answer more than 400,000 calls annually on behalf of 160 public and private behavioral health organizations in 16 states.

“Accessing timely intervention is critically important to an individual experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis,” says Rosenberg. And ProtoCall's clients say they can now meet that need, save money, and let their clinical teams get some sleep at night.

“We were tasked with face-to-face admission prescreening for a major hospital and trying to run a community hotline,” says Jeff Delay at the Genesee County Community Mental Health Center in Flint, Michigan. “Our hotline handling was not cost-efficient…. We had no call tracking and a terrible abandonment rate. The whole model was wrong.” ProtoCall now answers about 450 after-hours calls each month for the Center. “There's simply no way we could replicate ProtoCall's staffing and infrastructure,” Delay continues. “Now, we can meet our goal of serving the whole community, not just people ‘in the system.’”

James Steinshouer, EdD, of the Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority agrees: “The positive community impact is enormous…. ProtoCall plays a critical role with our Service Area Agencies.” In fact, Dr. Steinshouer nominated ProtoCall for the National Council's Excellence in Service to the Behavioral Healthcare Industry Award. ProtoCall received the award, which honors outstanding service and partnership by organizations that support mental health and addictions treatment providers, during the National Council's Annual Conference in April 2006.

“ProtoCall's mission of providing timely, effective assessment and intervention to people in times of crisis is fulfilled one call at a time,” says Evans. “We work to support and enhance service delivery in communities across the country, and we are proud of the success and recognition our program has earned.”

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