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BOH: town gets big return for its Lipton Center money

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

PEPPERELL — “The town receives far more service than the money would indicate,” said Health Agent Edward Wirtanen said.

He was speaking about the Community Healthlink’s Lipton Counseling Center statistics presented by Director Don Piktialis to the Board of Health last week.

Perhaps not a widely known service available to the town through the board, Lipton served 233 uninsured Pepperell residents in 3,505 visits last year.

The counseling center offers emergency services, counseling, day treatment, early intervention, school-based and outreach counseling, and medication visits.

Pepperell paid $12,538 for uncomplicated care for uninsured residents in 2005. Charges amassed by Lipton totaled $272,099, most of them billed to insurance or state contracts for the patient care.

Piktialis began working for the Department of Mental Health 14 years ago when it was funded with $400,000 annually for outpatient services. Five years ago the system shifted to insurance only and funding dropped to zero, he said.

”The problem with the uninsured is increasing everywhere. A doubling,” he said.

About 70 percent of cases are between 20 and 60 years old.

”There’s a good reason for it,” Piktialis said, “Mental health disorders and symptoms don’t emerge until later in life. For example depression or bipolar, usually as a hormone imbalance, becomes more identifiable.”

The Lipton Center once had a satellite office at the former Nashoba Hospital in Ayer, but it closed when Fort Devens closed.

”We do a fair amount with Nashoba Valley Medical Center emergency services,” Piktialis said. “They call our mental health group 24/7, and we go to triage to find reasons for the crisis and determine where to go.”

”If a patient is at risk to harm others, we will admit them to in-patient status as close by as possible,” he said. “We do about 2,500 crisis evaluations a year, 10 percent of them (are) Nashoba people.”

The Lipton Center was formed in 1954 to provide mental health services to children, adolescents and adults in North Worcester County.

The center merged with Community Healthlink in 1999. Healthlink was established in 1992 as a name change for the former Worcester Area Drug Coalition of 1970. Community Healthlink was the first member of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Behavioral Health System division of UMass Memorial Health Care.

Pepperell Town Nurse Ellen Castellano asked if Lipton patients can go to New Hampshire.

It is possible but complicated, said Piktialis.

Pepperell makes quarterly payments to Lipton which substantiates that it has served its residents. The center does not have its own transportation, relying instead on regional transportation for patients. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, the center has an 800 phone number for emergencies.

”We’re not in the money-making business, we’re in the health care business,” Piktialis said. “We will get a human to answer any caller unless it is during off hours. All our people are trained to ask questions.”

Asked how Lipton fits into bio-terrorism planning, Piktialis said it is part of the regional disaster plan and can use its own facilities as a shelter. It has some beds on Summer Street in Worcester, however, most of the involvement is crisis counseling.

If Pepperell had an incident, Piktialis said Lipton would likely be involved because it is part of damage control.

”Would anyone be available for the Pepperell BOH volunteer group?” Castellano asked.

“You bet,” he said. “We have a fellow for training fire and police. A lot of it involves dispelling myths.”

The Lipton Center has about 20 licensed counselors and part-time clinicians to send to schools when asked, he said. They are available to pupils between classes which causes minimum disruption. The center is part of the crisis management team for schools and often does danger evaluations.

”We’ve been here 30 years, and we have a passion about this work,” Piktialis said. “We have, probably, (a total of) 24 clinicians and 30 part-time people in our 24/7 emergency services (group).”

”I’d say the level of need has accelerated, particularly dangerousness. The challenge of living is tough,” he said. “We’ve had many campaigns to end the stigma (of mental health counseling) and more people come in.”

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