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SASH Mental Health Program Sees Statewide Expansion

SOUTH BURLINGTON, VT – Senator Peter Welch has secured $1,776,000 in federal appropriations to expand the SASH® (Support and Services at Home) embedded mental health program across Vermont. The program is currently operating in affordable housing and serving low-income older Vermonters and those with disabilities. This expansion will provide access to on-site mental health support for up to 1,200 participants, in partnership with the local designated community mental health agencies within the Vermont Care Partners network around the state.

This embedded mental health program in SASH housing sites statewide is modeled after the successful pilot between Cathedral Square and the Howard Center, which added a full-time SASH Emotional Wellness Clinician (SEWC) to two housing sites in Burlington, improving access for older adults to receive emotional and mental health services, while diminishing the stigma and other barriers often experienced with older adults accessing these services. The clinician conducts workshops, one-on-one and group counseling sessions, and informal "emotional check-ins" as needed. The program has succeeded in meeting the goals of improved and faster access to care, improved patient experience, reduced evictions, greater acceptance and understanding within the community, and a reduction in ER visits due to a mental health crisis.

"We are thrilled that Senator Welch recognizes both the impact we have had with this program and the potential to touch the lives of even more Vermonters," said Liz Genge, SASH Director at Cathedral Square. "It is so important that mental health services are accessible to everyone, and this program does that by bringing clinicians right where people live.”

This past fall, the SASH administrative team added a full-time Mental Health Leader to administer the expansion that now includes 2 clinicians employed by the Howard Center working in the SASH teams serving Decker Towers, Whitcomb Woods, Cathedral Square Senior Living, and Thayer House in Chittenden County. Additionally, there is a clinician in central Vermont employed by Washington County Mental Health Services and a clinician in the Northeast Kingdom employed by Northeast Kingdom Human Services so far. Rutland Mental Health Services, United Counseling Services of Bennington County, and Health Care and Rehabilitations Services are also actively planning to participate in the program.

In addition to the clinical staff serving on sites with SASH teams, the expansion brings training opportunities to SASH staff around the state focused on emotional wellness. For example, the PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active, Rewarding Lives) is a treatment program designed to reduce symptoms of depression and improve quality of life among older adults. The PEARLS Program Leader Training opportunity available for staff includes a commitment of six to eight in-home coaching sessions over 4 to 5 months, for participants that focus on goals around solving problems, becoming socially and physically active, and scheduling enjoyable activities.

Last year, the SASH embedded mental health clinician at the two pilot sites in Burlington made a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of residents. One hundred and eight participants engaged in services, which included sixty-three percent of participants identifying as male at the two sites. Compared to the twelve percent of males that seek mental health supports nationally, the SASH model shows to reduce the stigma many may feel in obtaining mental health treatment. Based on this success, funding was secured to continue the program. Cathedral Square previously received $1,352,000 in congressionally directed spending in 2023 through Senator Sanders’ office for the first-year expansion of the program across the state.

Vermont Business Magazine

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