The Path to Hope

After we have welcomed the new year and the celebrations are long gone, a fresh start awaits us and the possibilities are endless. For some, the possibilities seem numbered, as 2018 brings both old and new struggles for individuals and families alike. While the holiday season is largely full of joy, for those who struggle with mental illness, substance abuse, addiction and intellectual or developmental delays, this season can prove to be quite trying. Oftentimes, the constant reminders of others’ happy seasons serve as a painful reminder of the happiness, love and health that is lacking in the lives of those who are struggling. 

While coping is difficult, it is sometimes even more difficult to find affordable care to help address issues that many cannot manage or handle themselves. Seeking out and paying for care becomes another hurdle many face. This year, those struggles do not have to seem so insurmountable, as there are valuable resources right here in the area that can help individuals and families that might not be fortunate enough to afford and provide care for themselves. They can head into this year with hope and resolution. LifePath Systems, a Collin County-based organization that aides individuals and families with various debilitating mental and physical disabilities, is one of those resources, located right here in our backyard.

What is LifePath Systems?

LifePath Systems is a community-based, nonprofit organization created specifically to help individuals and their families dealing with mental illnesses, intellectual or developmental disabilities and developmental delays (like mental retardation and autism), substance abuse and addiction and infants with significant developmental delays. LifePath Systems is the primary resource for Medicaid or low-income individuals living in Collin County who need treatment for any range of these incapacities. LifePath Systems collaborates extensively with the 38 other community mental health centers in Texas to ensure the best possible care for those seeking services. 

The organization has been in operation since 1986 and was formed at the recommendation of a study committee made up of citizens throughout the county who saw a growing need. That group looked at the growing population and recognized the potential impact a center could have by addressing problems directly. As a result, there is now a professional staff to care for community members. They are highly-trained and credentialed and care a great deal about everyone they serve.

In January 2017, LifePath Systems became the Behavioral Health Authority for Collin County. The newly-expanded list of services includes a Mobile Crisis Team, a Military Veterans program, a Peer Support program and a Jail Diversion program. 

In August 2017, LifePath Systems Crisis Center opened to residents of Collin County. This center features 22 beds with two separate units: an eight-bed Extended Observation Unit (EOU) and a 14-bed Crisis Respite Unit (CRU). The EOU is designed for emergency stabilization to individuals in behavioral health crisis in a secure, protected, clinically-staffed psychiatrically supervised environment with access to urgent and emergency medical evaluation and treatment. This unit is open and accepts admissions 24/7.

The CRU provides individuals in mental health crisis who do not require hospitalization with a short-term, community-based setting to learn and practice skills and alternate response to life stressors. The CRU is open and accepts admissions 24/7. 

Diana Terry, the director of Early Childhood Services, says, “Our staff partners with and supports families and individuals in their home and community so they can reach their full potential. Most importantly, the staff cares about each individual and family they serve. They listen to clients, families, staff and others and provide the best, most effective services possible.”

Randy Routon, LifePath System’s CEO, explains, “Our goals are to help these individuals (and their families) reach their highest functioning level, to successfully recover from their disability whenever possible and to manage the effects of their illness/disability so they can live as productive citizens in the community.” 

Mr. Routon and the LifePath Systems professionals believe early intervention is always the best strategy. He continues, “LifePath is a complex organization, not only because it provides these services under strict state and federal regulations, but because it must find funding from a wide variety of sources, including state, federal, county, insurance, managed care, Medicaid/Medicare, client pay, private grants and fundraising.” 

LifePath Systems is designated as the local authority for both mental health and mental retardation services in Collin County, which means the organization provides some services directly, but also works closely with a large network of private practitioners and entities who provide treatment. One of the very difficult responsibilities LifePath Systems assumes as the authority is making decisions about resource allocation — how funds are spent when known need is greater than resources (typically dollars) available. In Texas, where funding is far below adequate, those are tough decisions. 

Annually, LifePath Systems and its providers care for more than 10,000 Collin County residents. Mr. Routon adds, “Today, LifePath Systems works closely with law enforcement, the justice system, veterans, schools and employers. We know the work we do improves public safety, intervenes in family and individual crises, creates good employees and changes the trajectory of individuals’ lives, all in a very cost-efficient manner. By doing these things, we believe we help build stronger, healthier communities.”

While the staff at LifePath Systems seeks to wholly serve each individual and family in their programs, Tammy Mahan, the director of LifePath’s Behavioral Health department, admits they are simply there to help people and families. She admits, “We help people recover. Everyone’s definition of recovery will be different and unique to that person, and we want to provide the resources for each person to move along their journey to recovery — whether that is recovery from mental illness or substance abuse or any other disability.” 

For many, help seems far away or completely out of the question, given their financial situation, but LifePath Systems is a premier organization established specifically to help those in need. In an effort to serve individuals, their families and their disabilities as best they can, the organization has various departments, programs and services that allow them to provide the best care possible. The organization’s Early Childhood Services, Behavioral Health Services and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services departments each partner with families to give loved ones superior care while helping them lead, or get back to leading, as normal and happy of a life as possible. 

Early Childhood Services

While many of the individuals LifePath Systems serves are adults, many families seek help and assistance for children with disabilities. LifePath System’s Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) helps babies and toddlers, from birth to age 3, who are at risk, have disabilities or delays in their development or have certain medical diagnoses. ECI partners with families to ensure every child from birth to 36 months reaches his/her full potential. A parent, grandparent, family member, doctor, daycare provider or anyone in the child’s life can make a referral to LifePath Early Childhood Services. Ms. Terry says, “We are experts in identifying developmental, behavioral, speech, gross/fine motor, nutritional and counseling needs. Once needs are identified, instead of families coming to us, we go to the family to provide services in the comfort of the child’s own environment. Our services support the whole family by incorporating intervention strategies into daily routines.” 

ECI also supports families through education and family services. Families and staff work as a team to develop a plan outlining services for the child and family, and most services are provided in the home or community to help children learn basic skills that are a part of their family’s daily routines. 

LifePath Systems’ ECI department offers screenings and assessments, including hearing and vision, specialized skills training, physical, occupational and speech and language therapy. There are activities to develop learning and eating skills and help social and emotional development. They provide assistive technology and help moving on to school or other services as needed at age 3 or when graduating from the program, nutritional services and even supporting child care or preschool teachers of enrolled children. 

As much as the ECI division is centered on working with and for the child, ECI is as committed to helping the parents of these children and offering education and counseling, coordination of needed social and health services and access to support groups. Ms. Terry asserts that early intervention very much positively impacts the child and their development, and LifePath System’s team of professionals seeks to improve outcomes for all involved, the child, the parents and the family, even after the child ages out of their service range. She adds, “When our young clients approach aging out of Early Childhood Services, at 3 years of age, our service coordinators focus on connecting families to school districts and community resources that will continue to customize services to meet their individual needs.”

On the organization’s website, parents can check, based on their child’s age, what typical development in a child should look like at that point. These may be good clues to indicate when they may need to reach out for support. Anyone can refer a child to ECI as soon as there is a concern about a developmental delay. In most cases, a child is referred by his or her parents or by the child’s health care provider. Anyone can make a referral, including a parent, grandparent, doctor, nurse, friend, social worker, etc. A referral source, such as a doctor, is required, by law, to call ECI as soon as possible if a delay is suspected. Referral is the first step in the process, and from there, families can expect an intake and screening to take place within 45 days of the referral. One mother shares, “The help we have gotten from ECI has been immeasurable. During our son’s well-baby checkup, his pediatrician asked how he was doing with his language. I explained that he was not talking yet, so our doctor referred us to ECI.” The ECI staff completes an evaluation and assessment of the child, also within 45 days of the referral, and, from there, ECI sets up what is called an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) meeting, where services are determined and outlined. She continues, “When I initially talked with the Early Intervention Specialist, she explained, in full detail, exactly what the program could not only offer our son, but our whole family. We set up a time for ECI professionals to come to our house to evaluate him, and the staff walked us through the evaluation and explained everything. At the end of the evaluation, we were told our son qualified for speech therapy services.” Within 28 days of the IFSP, services begin, followed by a six-month review of the plan and a 12-month review of the plan. Children receiving services will leave ECI by their third birthday, or when they are developing appropriately for their age and no longer need services. Planning for transition begins after age 2. 

Parents and families often learn and grow, too, and that growth is the very essence of the value of the services these programs provide. Ms. Terry explains, “My favorite part about Early Childhood Services is watching our providers teach parents activities that help their children learn and grow. It is heartwarming to watch the most important person in a child’s life join in every step of the early childhood intervention process, from identifying needs to working daily with their child to help them gain the skills that help them learn best.”

Behavioral Health

LifePath Systems is the local authority for both mental health and substance abuse services in Collin County. The goal of the Behavioral Health department is to ensure both mental health and substance abuse services are available to individuals who qualify for state-funded assistance based upon available funding. 

Ms. Mahan is responsible for services provided in Behavioral Health and all the contracts LifePath Systems manages. She says, “I work to ensure we are constantly expanding our funding sources so we can offer a greater depth of services to the individuals we serve and we can cover the gaps in care that exist today. As a behavioral health service provider, we are staffed with highly-qualified and experienced psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, licensed therapists, registered nurses, mental health specialists, licensed chemical dependency counselors and peer support staff. We specialize in providing services to those individuals diagnosed with a serious mental illness, a substance abuse disorder, or both. We provide services to children ages 3-17 and adults of any age. Our goal is to provide the highest quality services in a respectful and caring environment focused on the needs of each individual.”

The Behavioral Health department provides those in need with an array of services from crisis hotlines to in-patient care. The Crisis Hotline (1.877.422.5939) operates 24/7 for anyone living in Collin County. Counselors who assess the level of the crisis and then determine the appropriate response answer this hotline. They can dispatch the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT), which is responsible for responding to individuals in crisis. This response unit responds in an hour or less for most emergency calls, and will meet people in their home, at school, work, a coffee shop, etc., and help talk through the crisis, provide brief interventions and referrals, coordinate follow-up care and work with emergency services, if necessary. The MCOT team may also refer individuals to the Crisis Center for residential treatment. “We have an Extended Observation Unit for up to 48-hour observation and care and a Crisis Respite Unit for up to seven days of crisis respite care for individuals who do not require an inpatient level of care, but who do need a supervised therapeutic environment for stabilization,” Ms. Mahan adds. 

LifePath System’s Behavioral Health services also provide an Open Access Clinic for all individuals who require state-funded assistance and are seeking mental health or substance abuse services. Open Access Clinics are open daily, Monday through Friday, at 8 a.m. for walk-in enrollments. Clinics are located at 1515 Heritage Drive, Suite 105, in McKinney, and 7304 Alma Drive, in Plano. Those seeking services through Open Access Clinics are required to provide a driver’s license, social security card, proof of income, proof of residency and proof of insurance (if available) for enrollment. Ms. Mahan says, “Based on the initial assessment, services will be authorized and you will be able to choose from a list of providers, of which LifePath Systems is one of the providers. Contracted providers include mental health comprehensive providers, substance abuse detoxification providers, substance abuse intensive residential providers (youth and adult), substance abuse outpatient providers (youth and adult) and opioid treatment service providers.” Mental health outpatient services available include cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy (for those with trauma), skills training, parent skills training, peer support services, family partner services, psychiatric assessments and medication management, psychiatric nursing, supported housing, supported employment, crisis intervention and follow-up, case management, outreach and engagement. 

Additionally, LifePath Systems has Substance Abuse Outpatient Services that provide intensive and supportive levels of outpatient substance abuse treatment, a Military Veteran Peer Support Network (MVPN) that employs two veterans to provide outreach activities throughout Collin County to identify service members, veterans and family members in need of mental health or substance abuse services, an Assertive Community Treatment Team that provides intensive field-based services to individuals who have histories of not being able to stabilize in the community, and a Jail Diversion Team that assists those individuals who are involved with the criminal justice system. 

Ms. Mahan wants the community to know there is help available through the wide array of services. She adds, “It all starts with an initial assessment at our Open Access Clinic or a phone call to our Crisis Hotline. You do not have to wait until it is an emergency and you are calling 911. Help is available and it might be free if you meet the criteria.” Ms. Mahan believes the staff is a vital, integral part of the success of those who seek help in LifePath Systems’ services. She explains, “I love that we employ peers — individuals with lived experience. Our Peer Support Specialists and Recovery Coaches have actual experience in living with a mental health or a substance abuse condition. They are employed to give clients hope that they, too, can recover and live a fulfilling life in a career they love. They can also help advocate for clients, provide a supportive service not available from other members of the team and engage new individuals into services who may need that extra ear to feel heard.”

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

The Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) program with LifePath Systems offers respite care, supported employment, service coordination, crisis intervention and residential care for those in need. This branch is the local arm of Texas Health and Human Services for individuals with developmental disabilities in Collin County and offers information and enrollment services into state-funded programs. “Information, referrals and community coordination are a big part of what we do,” Fern Gimenez, the director of Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services, says. “The mission of our department is to help provide support that individuals with developmental disabilities and the people that support them need to live meaningful lives in the community. That may take the form of direct services, linking to other community resources, parent education or helping people navigate their lives. Crafting an individualized solution is key because needs are not the same.”

Under Service Coordination services, LifePath Systems provides individuals with intellectual disabilities with a Service Coordinator to help them determine and manage the various services available. Service Coordinators are the single point of contact for various LifePath Systems programs. They provide assistance in developing an individualized plan, including prioritization of services, identification of providers, budget development and plan monitoring throughout the year. The Service Coordinator aides in planning and prioritizing support individuals can receive, including respite care, community access, skills training, behavioral supports and a day program.

Some individuals with mental retardation, autism or pervasive developmental disorders may be eligible for the County Support Grant that provides them with support in their home environment. These qualified individuals are eligible to receive a maximum of $2,500 per fiscal year to purchase a service or item directly related to their cognitive disability. Examples of some allowable expenses covered under this grant are respite care services, home care services, counseling and training services and various therapies including occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech. LifePath Systems’ IDD also provides a Supported Employment program that aides individuals in finding real work in a community setting, while working hard to match interests, skills, strengths and choices with a job. Ms. Gimenez adds, “Our Supported Employment unit helps bring awareness to the abilities of the people we serve in the workplace and highlights the employers who offer those opportunities.” Ms. Gimenez’s favorite part of what she does is working hand-in-hand with families she and her department serve. “I love sitting down and talking with families, allowing them to share their hopes and dreams and fears and worries and helping them figure out what solutions will work. I love when families realize they are not alone in their journey — that they can say the things that scare them the most and they will not be judged — that they do not have to have all the answers and someone is there to help them figure it out,” she shares. “I love that we can provide respite care — that brief, periodic relief from caregiving that will allow parents to have a date night, to nurture their relationships with their other children, take care of their own health needs — all the benefits that taking a break to refresh and recharge can offer. Family caregiving for someone with a disability lasts long past the developmental period and medical or behavioral needs can make it intense, so the opportunity to rest and recharge is critical,” Ms. Gimenez adds. 

She most hopes the community understands that the people the IDD supports are from all walks of life, ages, genders, ethnicities and a broad range of impacts of disability, from very small needing few supports to serious impact need for 24-hour care and highly-skilled intervention. She explains, “One in 10 people has a family member or person in their life with autism or intellectual disability. Reach out and be a friend, say ‘hello,’ volunteer to help a person with a disability at work, church or school. Reducing isolation and making connections is a huge step toward a richer life.” 

Time For a Fresh Start

Every employee at LifePath Systems holds the families they work with close to their hearts, and those partnerships allow families and individuals to feel cared for and capable of productive, happy lives. “We are here to help you with that goal you hold most dear, which is to support a quality life for the individual with the disability,” Ms. Gimenez says. “We are always looking for partners to work with us supporting individuals in the community, to serve on our advisory committee and to help advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities in the legislative sphere.”

While the subject of needing, seeking and receiving help for a number of health issues is somewhat taboo, LifePath Systems, its employees and the services they offer are proof that there should be no stigma. Mr. Routon admits, “All of us have someone in our family or a close neighbor who previously used or needs services. It is more cost effective for us, as taxpayers, and less destructive for the individual to get them help as early as possible. There should be no stigma to receiving help just because the problem is one with your brain, rather than a broken leg or a kidney that is not functioning properly.” 

The staff at LifePath Systems takes their job seriously and seeks the betterment of others while providing great care for individuals in need. The staff and Board of Trustees are involved in a wide range of community groups, including the Community Resource Coordination Group for Kids, the Domestic Violence Taskforce, Rotary International and the Behavioral Health Coalition and hosts bi-monthly meetings of law enforcement and hospitals on crisis response. 

Leaders of the organization are available to give presentations on a variety of topics and do so regularly. The staff at LifePath Systems works hard daily to meet the needs of others. They are always looking for volunteers to help in office support, with recreational activities, yard work and office maintenance. They seek clinical volunteers for counseling and medical services and even offer opportunities for students to get involved. LifePath Systems hosts many events throughout the year and always welcomes donations from the community. To make a donation or to learn more about the LifePath Systems Foundation, visit lifepathfoundation.org. For more information on programs and resources available through LifePath Systems, visit lifepathsystems.org.

Allie Spletter is a wannabe foodie and lover of all things pink and crafty.

Allie Spletter

Allie Spletter is a wannabe foodie and lover of all things pink and crafty.