Valley Cities Outreach Van connecting the hard to reach

Valley Cities Behavioral Health has a new van that they’re using to connect to those in need

Mental health treatment in rural areas could soon be easier to access.

During the Enumclaw Street Fair last month, Valley Cities Behavioral Health unveiled its new mobile services van that will help connect people normally far away from any sort of behavioral health support.

According to Interim Vice President of Clinical Operations Angela Coe, the van will visit five areas — including Enumclaw — once a week, and is able to perform mental health and drug and alcohol assessments for further treatment, provide access to telehealth for medical appointments, and connect clients to all sorts of social services.

Valley Cities will be partnering with local organizations in order to determine where exactly the van will travel to in the near future.

Valley Cities has an Enumclaw office, but they want to go further than only helping there. Valley Cities Behavioral Health program manager Scott Stewart said they want to reach people who don’t have easy access to any social services, such as homeless people who camp in the woods and those who live in rural areas far from any social services.

“If somebody comes into Valley Cities, more often than not, the services they’re going to receive aren’t singular, right?” Stewart said, “We believe in delivering treatment in a global sense, in trying to work on whatever the client wants to work on. We figure out the treatment plan based on the client’s goals.”

Stewart said services at the van start with a mental health assessment. From there, clients can access other services via telehealth. Substance use disorder assessments, which can be used to refer someone to an inpatient rehab, are also available.

If the client does not have any insurance for services, Valley Cities can see if they qualify for Medicaid, which Stewart said is very helpful for people with low incomes.

Of course, since the van plans to only come to various areas once a week, clients may need services on other days where the van isn’t available. Stewart said another service Valley Cities can connect clients with are social services than can help clients acquire a cell phone.

And obviously, telehealth is not a silver bullet, and clients might need transportation to services that might be located 50 to 60 miles away, Stewart said. Valley Cities and the mobile van does not transport people, but they can connect clients with transportation services.

Finally, although combatting homelessness is not their focus at Valley Cities, Stewart said there are cases where addressing someone’s untreated mental health issues can help them improve their life and get out of homelessness.

“People are complicated in the sense that it’s generally just not one thing that needs to happen for their lives to improve. It’s generally one thing leads to another thing, which leads to another thing,” Stewart said. “If someone is struggling with some untreated or unresolved mental health conditions, and getting mental health treatment would clear up some of those conditions, which would allow them to increase their quality of life, then yes, mental health treatment would be indicated.”

Stewart said a roadblock to getting the van operating full-time is a lack of sufficient staffing. He said they must hire two people to run the van seven days a week, and they’ve tried to hire staff for the last four months. He cites that this might be a challenge because they are a nonprofit.

“It’s the same reason why it’s difficult to fill any positions in behavioral health right now. It’s a competitive market. We work in a nonprofit, so of course, we’re competing with for-profit agencies, and just generally speaking, there is a workforce shortage in behavioral health,” Stewart said.