By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL|Oct. 08, 2019 – 9:59 PM

Coweta’s mobile integrated healthcare program, known as Coweta Cares, is still in its “soft launch” phase.

But the program is already being honored.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities named Coweta Cares the winner of the “Regional Outstanding Behavioral Health Provider Award” for outstanding delivery of mental health services in Georgia’s Region 6.

The award was presented at DBHDD’s 2019 Behavioral Health Symposium.

Coweta Cares is a partnership of Coweta County Fire Rescue/Coweta EMS and the Pathways Center, a mental health provider.

The Coweta Cares SUV is staffed by a paramedic and a licensed professional counselor, who respond to behavioral health calls.

Coweta Cares visits people on a regular basis to help prevent behavioral health emergencies and responds to behavioral health 911 calls when possible.

The program ran its first call in March. The program won’t really meet its full potential until the new Pathways Care Campus in Coweta opens. Once open, it will be a place that people having a behavioral health crisis can go to get immediate help – instead of the emergency room.

At the end of September, the first full-time paramedic was assigned to Coweta Cares, said Jeff Denney, Coweta assistant chief of response and member development, who oversees EMS services for CCFR.

Before that, the service was operating from 1 to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, Denney said. Now the program will begin operating on 12-hour shifts.

Denney said it will be a rotating schedule of two 12-hour day shifts, then three days off, then three 12-hour shifts on and two days off. The paramedic and the counselor will operate on the same schedule.

Denney said Coweta Cares will also begin partnering with Piedmont Newnan Hospital to check up on stroke patients after they go home. “We are finishing up our Memorandum of Understanding with Piedmont Newnan,” Denney said.

The team will visit stroke patients to help them with their recovery by talking about medication, follow-up appointments, and even depression. The team will also help patients with tobacco cessation and other lifestyle issues if needed.

“They’re basically just helping them navigate their way through the recovery process,” Denney said.

Coweta Cares grew out of a series of meetings of a group that Denney put together in 2018, known as the Coweta Behavioral Health Task Force. The group, which included law enforcement and other public safety officials as well as behavioral health and medical professionals, met to look at better ways to respond to behavioral health emergencies.

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta has a similar program that responds to behavioral health calls, and several task force members went to visit Grady and learn more about the program.

“I think it’s a definite step in the right direction as far as how we deliver our services,” Denney said. “It’s definitely needed.”

And Denney said he expects to see the program copied in throughout the state.

If statistics show that the program is working, Denney said perhaps in the future they will be able to add a second shift to cover every day of the week, and maybe then the night shift.

Eventually, the program may be expanded to serve even more Cowetans dealing with various issues.

“We’re honored to be recognized,” Denney said of the award.

“Whatever the community needs – that is what we’re looking to do,” Denney said. “We don’t really know where we’re going to end up, but this is where we’re starting.”