UCS legislative breakfast highlights Urgent Care for Kids

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BENNINGTON — Since September, at least 30 children who would have gone directly to the hospital emergency room while in psychological distress instead visited a two-story green and blue building on Dewey Street.

The building houses the Psychiatric Urgent Care for Kids, a new program of United Counseling Service and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, which helps children experiencing a mental health or behavioral crisis.

The program proponents saw a growing number of children being taken by law enforcement from school and brought to the emergency room, a crisis intervention site that can be traumatic for young ones.

"Mental health professionals have long known that it is more effective and far less traumatic to keep someone who is in the midst of a mental health crisis out of the places they too often end up in: hospital emergency departments," Lorna Mattern, executive director of UCS said at the organization's annual legislative breakfast in Bennington on Monday.

In the the fourth quarter of 2018 alone, UCS reported evaluating 294 children with psychological distress at SVMC's emergency department.

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"Sending children to the ED is often unnecessary," Mattern said.

The nonprofit's staff talked about some of their accomplishments and challenges in front of state legislators representing Bennington districts: Brian Campion, Dick Sears, Tim Corcoran, Jim Carroll, David Durfee, Mary Morrissey and Nelson Brownell.

Being in an emergency room is traumatic for children since they encounter people who are sick and in pain, they need to change into a hospital gown and could be separated from their guardians, said Kheya Ganguly, UCS assistant director of youth and family services.

The local children's psychiatric urgent care, called PUCK, was designed to exude a homelike environment, said UCS. It features a "quiet room" and a "sensory room" with child-friendly activities.

It is operating as a pilot program with a $125,000 grant from the OneCare Vermont health care organization. The grant is good for one year, Mattern said, and organizers are exploring funding that would enable PUCK to continue.

The facility is holding an open house 4-7 p.m. on Jan. 22. It is located at 314 Dewey St.


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