Community services board CEO embraces new laws

Michael Elwell, CEO of the Northwestern Community Services Board, said he supports two bills Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed last week that would affect how the community board would operate.

At the bill signing, McAuliffe approved bills that would require community services boards like the Northwestern Community Services Board to provide additional services.

As a result of the new bills, the board would have to start offering same-day screenings for mental health services, but Elwell said he is embracing this change.

“I think it will significantly change how and how often we treat people,” he said.

Elwell said the board has a high rate of no-shows, noting that one-quarter to half of the people who set up appointments do not show up.

“People just don’t show up, they don’t come,” Elwell said. “People deny things, they go, ‘Oh, it’s really not that bad.'”

By having hours in which patients who need treatment can walk in and get screened in one day, Elwell said the doctors can have more efficient schedules.

“We need to optimize [the doctors’] times,” he said, adding that the changes would be beneficial to mental health patients, who can get help more quickly under the changed law.

Under the new laws, community services boards have until July 1, 2019, to comply with a number of new requirements. In addition to requiring same-day mental health screening, the bill requires that the boards offer emergency services and screening for physical health issues.

The requirement that people who come in with mental health issues receive a physical health screening is important, Elwell said, because mental health problems often come with physical health impacts.

People with mental health issues “don’t take real good care of themselves, in terms of their health,” he said.

The new laws also add requirements that community services boards have to reach by 2021. By that date, the boards must offer crisis services for people with mental health or substance abuse issues as well as mental health services to veterans who live more than 40 miles away from a Veterans Health Administration facility.

Elwell said that the only big change the new laws would have on Northwestern Community Services is the one requiring same-day screening for mental health issues. He added that the board will also implement same-day screening for people who come in with substance abuse problems – something he cites as a necessity for complying with the new laws.

Without knowing a patient, Elwell said, it can be hard to tell if that person has mental health problems, substance abuse problems or both.

Elwell said the cost of the new requirements would not be prohibitive. In fact, by reducing the rate of no-shows, the new requirements might financially benefit the board.

Instead, he said, the biggest adjustment is going to be cultural.

“Some of the [doctors] that have been entrenched in the system have said that they don’t want to do that,” Elwell said.

The Northwestern Community Services Board has clinics at 494 North Main St. in Woodstock, 209 West Criser Road in Front Royal and 158 Front Royal Pike, Suite 200 in Winchester. The clinics screen and treat people with mental illnesses, people who struggle with substance abuse and people with intellectual disabilities.