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By Gregory Powers
In Washtenaw County, there’s a phone number for individuals seeking substance use support—a 24/7 hotline that gives people access to an immediate screening, referral to a community provider, or guidance on how to get connected to services.
That number is 734-544-3050.
And it’s made possible from millage funding that has added licensed mental health and substance use disorder staff at Washtenaw County Community Mental Health who are now available to answer the call.
Aligning Washtenaw with other neighboring counties
Previously, the process for accessing substance use disorder services in Washtenaw differed than the other counties overseen by Community Mental Health Partnership of Southeast Michigan (CMHPSM)—counties that all used their local community mental health agency as the single access point.
In Washtenaw, people seeking a referral were directly assigned to one of the county’s two core service providers—Home of New Vision or Dawn Farm—based on their birth month. And while the original process had good intentions and allowed clients to switch providers, if desired, it also created confusion and sometimes could delay the time to treatment.
Several years ago, dozens of substance use treatment providers and stakeholders were convened by the Washtenaw Health Initiative to discuss ways to improve the region’s substance use treatment system.
A single point of entry access process—and a universal screening tool— were some of the main recommendations that came out of this substance use treatment systems improvement process.
“As a harm reduction specialist working with this population for over 20 years, many of these individuals are frustrated with access barriers to our care system,” says Lemont Gore, street outreach coordinator at Unified: HIV Health and Beyond.
“I’m confident and hopeful,” he continues, “that simplifying our access route, via [Washtenaw County] Community Mental Health, will enhance the process for those seeking help and also encourage others to consider their options.”
A new year—a new, streamlined process
Starting January 1, 2022, Washtenaw County residents began to access 24/7 substance use treatment support by calling 734-544-3050, the same one-stop phone number handled by WCCMH’s crisis and CARES teams.
The number connects callers with a live mental health and substance use professional—individuals who can conduct immediate screenings, provide referrals to community-based providers, and provide guidance on how to get connected to services.
WCCMH believes the new 24/7 screening process will significantly speed time to treatment—and make it easier for residents to access services when they’re ready to take that step.
“We expect this change to be a huge improvement for those seeking substance use treatment,” says Trish Cortes, the executive director of WCCMH. “Substance use needs are mental and physical health needs. People who request this support need it as quickly as possible.”
The new intake process will also allow WCCMH to continue to collect anonymized data about substance use treatment needs and outcomes—such as the amount of time it takes to move from assessment to treatment—as the WCCMH access system is integrated with CMHPSM’s electronic health record.
For referrals and information—but not for emergencies
For substance use disorder emergencies—such as an overdose or imminent danger—people should continue to call 911 for immediate professional help.
For all other needs, the 24/7 access line will connect callers to local, professional services. Residents can also call the access line with a broad range of questions, including how to help loved ones and how to navigate the county’s substance use treatment system.