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3 Questions With Pillars’ Crisis/SASS Team

Leah Mizell, LCSW, director of Pillars’ Crisis/SASS program, answers questions about what makes this program so vital—and special.

When you’re in the midst of an emergency or coping with the aftermath of trauma, it’s important to be able to get help quickly. Pillars has been offering Crisis Intervention Services since 1976 through predecessor agencies, at no cost to the client.

Leah Mizell, LCSW, director of Pillars’ Crisis/SASS program, has been with Pillars since 2010 as an outpatient/crisis therapist. Here, she answers three questions about what makes this program so vital—and special.

Q. What does your team do exactly?

A. Our Crisis Team helps stabilize individual and family psychiatric emergencies and/or homicidal ideas; high-risk behaviors involving self-harm; substance abuse and/or aggressive behaviors; and acute psychotic episodes. They also provide support in the community—if there is a death or trauma that impacts a whole community or school, for instance—and they assist the police with crisis situations.

Screening, Assessment and Support Services (SASS), which are provided by various agencies throughout the state, are there to support youth experiencing a mental health crisis and their families. Our SASS team screens to see if an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization is needed. If hospitalization is recommended, we work with the family, the client, and the referral source to find a psychiatric hospital that best meets the client’s clinical needs as well as family preference and continuity of care. Once the client is hospitalized, a SASS worker is assigned to work with the family and the hospital staff to provide ongoing support services.

As a program we have kept youth out of the hospital at a rate higher than the state average–about 65-70 percent remain in the community. We always hope for the least restrictive option.

Our team here is composed of masters-level SASS clinicians and outpatient clinicians. Everyone on the team can do both crisis calls and SASS. Crisis and screening calls are answered by both groups of clinicians, whoever is on call. (We are on call even on holidays and weekends.) When they’re not on call, the crisis clinicians are providing outpatient mental health services, and the SASS clinicians are providing the 90-day follow-up with their clients.

Q. Do you have any clients who come to mind when you think about the impact of this program?

A. Yes, just last year we worked with a youth who was a resident at a community residential center. That placement could no longer meet his needs, but he needed to continue in a residential program. So they sent him to a hospital in Pillars’ area—now we could work with him. For an entire week, eight hours a day, we called every place in the state to see if there was someone who could meet his needs long-term. We were able to find placement for him. What sticks out to me is that we just were not going to give up. Every other place had tried to find care for him and would end up just giving him a safety plan for trying to stay safe. We said we’re not going to give up and if it takes us a few days to find a solution, that’s what we’re going to do.

As a team we are focused on crisis stabilization, but that linkage piece is almost more important. You can stabilize a crisis many, many times, but it will continue to arise unless you can come up with an appropriate linkage to long-term solutions to meet the client’s ongoing needs.

Q. What makes Pillars unique as a provider of mental health and social services?

A. We don’t give up. We may not be able to do the specific thing a client is asking for, but we can do something to get them closer to what they need.

On our team, we meet every week to talk about anything we feel like we need help figuring out for the client. We always work to find a solution. It always comes back to the client—no matter how hard it was for us to figure out an appropriate path for the client, we have to remember that for the client this may be the hardest time they’ve ever been through. We will do 100% what we are supposed to do and often go above and beyond to meet the clients’ needs. That really sets Pillars apart: Staff are steadfast in helping people find a way forward, no matter how long it takes.


Find help: Crisis workers are available 24 hours a day at 708.745.5277 to speak to anyone who is having thoughts of harming themselves or others, evicted from a home, or experiencing a loss. The CARES hotline fields SASS screenings at 800.345.9049 for youth who are currently in crisis; calls from Pillars’ area are then routed to the Pillars team.

Support this work: Click here to donate to Pillars in support of the Crisis/SASS program. You can restrict your gift to Crisis/SASS on this form.

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