NEW MILFORD — In just a matter of weeks, a newly formed Community Care Team has been able to help four residents get the services they need for mental health and substance abuse.

These are what the group hopes are the first of many success stories as it continues to grow and assess the needs of the New Milford community.

Community Care Teams, run through the Western Connecticut Health Network, create plans to better serve those at risk from substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness or other problems. They include representatives from the hospital, charitable groups, outplacement facilities and government agencies, and all serve for free. Referrals can come from individuals in the community as well as team members.

“It’s really a grassroots volunteer effort to take care of the neediest people in the community,” said Dr. Katherine Tait Michael, WCHN’s medical director for behavioral health strategy.

Michael said the aim is to streamline services for residents so that they do not need to visit hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency needs. Since the teams started at other network hospitals, ER visits have decreased by about 30 percent in Norwalk and more than 35 percent in Danbury.

Middlesex Hospital started the first community team in 2012. Norwalk created one in 2014 and Danbury launched its team in January 2015.

The hope was always to expand to New Milford, but it wasn’t possible until this year, when the network hired Justin Cullmer, a New Milford resident, as a high risk navigator. The group held its first meeting last month.

Cullmer said 15 to 20 agencies are involved, including Loaves and Fishes and New Milford Behavioral Health, and he expects that number to reach 30 as word spreads.

“It’s having the community as a whole take ownership and communicate,” he said.

New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said it’s great to have so many organizations involved to cover the spectrum of needs seen within the vulnerable population, and that he is pleased to know it is already proving its worth.

“If it helps one person, it’s beneficial,” Bass said.

At one point community care teams had state funding, but that was zeroed out in recent budget cuts and the programs are now run on donations. The community can contribute online through the hospital’s website.

The hospital emergency departments will also monitor visits and recommend patients.

“It’s a community effort to make the changes we want to see,” Cullmer said.

In addition to helping individuals, the New Milford team also created a plan for warming shelters, which have already been used a few times this year.

Michael said the teams were also established to break down the silos between agencies.

“It’s an amazing thing when you get everyone in the ame room and get talking about specific plans for specific people,” she said.

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