July 1st, 2013

N.H. surveys gauge consumer satisfaction

Even with severe financial cutbacks to the mental health system, it appears that customer satisfaction with New Hampshire’s community mental health centers, or CMHC’s, has remained high over the past half decade.

Wrapping up its fifth contracted year of conducting surveys on consumer satisfaction levels with the state’s community mental health centers, the Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire has released the results from the most recent year.

Funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the IOD had contracted with the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services to survey and analyze findings from adult, youth and family members of youth who received services from the state’s 10 CMHCs. Individuals were asked for their level of satisfaction in general, along with their satisfaction in access to services, participation in treatment, quality of treatment, cultural sensitivity and outcomes.

For the most recent year, nearly 80 percent of adults stated a general satisfaction with the services they were provided by the CMHCs. Youth had a 77 percent rate and family members of children rated it as 76 percent.

“The results show that, despite challenges within the community mental health system, we still have a significant percentage of people who are satisfied with the services,” says Eric Riera, administrator for the Bureau of Behavioral Health. “That speaks highly of the quality of services they are getting and of the staff providing those services.”

Over the course of five years, those numbers have remained fairly consistent. The one area where the survey saw the greatest change is with consumers feeling more involved in creating their treatment plans (up from 68 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in 2012).

“Because this year’s survey really was similar to previous years,” says Peter Antal, Ph.D., IOD researcher and author of the report, “we are looking at what we’ve learned as a result of the last five years and pulling that together. The emphasis is the on-going need for a more systemic approach to mental health services in the schools, court systems and integration with medical care across the state.”

The survey also identified the challenges that the system still does face. From 61 percent of adults still not being aware of the state’s peer support centers to 29 percent not knowing about peer crisis respite or the transportation to the centers provided state-wide, getting the word out about the available services can still be a stumbling block to access.

“These are relatively new programs,” says Antal, “so the question was whether people were aware of their existence. If CMHCs are not talking about peer supports, they are not likely to know about it. Better outreach is needed, as a standard part of communication.”

Another concern is the fact that, although it is mandated by a N.H. law enacted more than two years ago, many respondents did not receive copies of their treatment plans (59 percent).

The surveys each year act as a report card for the state’s CMHCs, many of whom use the feedback to streamline or expand services or to work to increase awareness of programs that already exist. Advocacy groups use the information for educational outreach programs. For the state, the surveys have been useful in keeping track of progress and to apply for grant money to solve problem areas.

A new drive to improve services for families and children will be the focus of future surveys, says Riera. “New Hampshire made it a priority and we will be looking at programs to improve services for kids and families” The agency will be looking to see how these new programs affect future survey results as well.

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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