As a loved one approaches a time when mental problems appear to be imminent, there is no real roadmap for how to prepare for that change. The person you once knew may not be there much longer. Roles suddenly have to be reversed—the person who once took care of you becomes the one in need of care. Do you send that parent or grandparent to a living facility? Do you rely on emergency room visits? Or do you play it by ear and shoulder the responsibility of potential round-the-clock care yourself?

There is no “right answer” to any of these questions. However, now there is an encouraging alternative when it comes to treating seniors suffering from mental deficiencies. The government-funded Statewide Clinical Outreach Program for the Elderly (aka S-COPE) provides a mental health outreach team that ensures crisis response and clinical follow-up to senior citizens aged 55 and up. According to Deborah L. Humphreys, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Elizabeth, the program gives nursing homes and other care centers a go-to resource before simply dropping the elderly off at emergency rooms.

The idea actually was first proposed by Trinitas Regional Medical Center in 2012, when Governor Christie’s administration was looking for a way to accomplish its goal of expanding community care programs across New Jersey. The proposal built off of the SCCAT (Statewide Clinical Consultation and Training) program, which brought care to adults with developmental disabilities. The Department of Behavioral Health and Psychiatry of Trinitas now manages the S-COPE program.

“S-COPE is a program that fills an important need in the local communities,” Humphreys explains. “The staff offers a great mix of education, care, and advocacy that improves the lives of seniors, as well as family and caregivers. It is the consultation and training that we highly value in helping us to meet the needs of seniors, as well as fulfilling the highest standards of care with expertise, dedication, creativity, and common sense.”

As Trinitas behavioral health professionals observed that people who took care of senior citizens with mental issues relied too much on ER drop-offs, they wanted to bring about a different choice for those with special needs.

S- COPE brings the care to the patients themselves and provides hands-on care to the afflicted. After obtaining approval from the Department of Human Services, Trinitas received $1.3 million in grants and was able to successfully move forward with the program. In S-COPE’s short history, this outreach program has been able to:
• Become fully operational in all 21 counties of New Jersey
• Helped four Facilities establish Behavior Response Teams
• Received 545 referrals from nursing facilities, screening centers, and in-patient units
• Provided more than 2,157 face-to-face and phone interventions in response to crisis situations
• Conducted more than 70 training sessions to facilities, seven regional trainings, and one annual conference to educate people on

A year has passed since S-COPE was created. By any measure, the program has been a triumph. The program continues to expand, and patients and care providers have given Trinitas a major thumbs-up for its commitment to making it work. Toni Loyas, for one, has nothing but great things to say about the program.

“My experience with S-COPE has been nothing but positive,” says the COO of Lincoln Park Care Center, a 24-hour skilled nursing care facility. “They have been extremely responsive. Training in behavioral techniques, dementia and severe persistent mental illness for older adults has been outstanding. They are very involved in helping our residents remain in their home. I would recommend this team to any facility.”

Though the S-COPE program represents important progress in a growing area of concern, there is still work to be done to fully understand mental illness, and responding to the needs of seniors suffering from dementia. Trinitas is compiling research from all of its findings to further fine-tune its methodology and training. One area of promise is increasing the presence of technology in the form of video conferencing with patients in order to bring immediate attention to those in need. Training has already begun at facilities all over New Jersey.

Editor’s Note: The first annual S-COPE Conference took place in March 2013. For more information on the S-COPE program, call 908-272-3606.