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COA Spotlight: Gail Bourassa Aids Elders with Mental Health Issues

Jan 29, 2019 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson
For 30 years, Gail Bourassa has been assisting local residents who are dealing with “acute or chronic stressors or illness.” Currently, she sees approximately 40 elders with mental health issues in a typical month. These folks live in Bellingham and the five nearby towns of Blackstone, Franklin, Medway, Mendon, and Milford.

Bourassa is the program coordinator for EMHOT which stands for Elder Mental Health Outreach Team. The program is funded through June by the Massachusetts Council on Aging and the Department of Mental Health, and is available to residents of the six towns who are at least 60 years of age. EMHOT provides information, support, treatment and resources to residents free of charge.

“Most of the time,” explains Bourassa, “I can help people… and that feels good. People working hard to get better is inspiring.”

She deals with a range of mental health diagnoses, including PTSD, anxiety, depression and related physical problems. She typically meets in people’s homes, area senior centers, or her office at 2 Maple Street in Bellingham.

And the demand is high. Her wait-list has gotten as high as 17 seniors awaiting help. She tries to see them within a month; but if the situation is a crisis then she will offer some type of help immediately.

“I have some people I have seen for two years,” she explains. “There are those that I simply cannot transfer to anyone else for various reasons. Some people I see twice a month, some people I see 10 hours in a month. It really depends on the acuity and the circumstances.”

Bourassa tells the story of someone outside of her district who had to wait nine months for mental health assistance, went through three out-reach contacts, and was eventually visited, but only once.

“Seniors in need often have trouble accessing treatment,” says Bourassa. Mental, physical, financial (insurance), travel and timing all come into play. The EMHOT program is designed to work within these constraints.

What’s changed over 30 years? Bourassa notes that “people are more accepting of the idea that brain issues can be dealt with… the stigma of mental illness is lifting… that being healthy is worth it.” Another big change involves family structure where an elder’s children, who could be caretakers, live in other parts of the U.S. leaving the Mom or Dad alone. Also, she adds, there are new and better medications and treatments.

A survey done last September found, among other things, that 85% of her clients were “dealing more effectively with daily problems,” 63% were “feeling better able to control their lives,” and 61% were “better able to deal with a crisis.”

Bourassa was graduated from Assumption College in Worcester with a master’s degree in counseling psy-chology and is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. Her work history includes short term inpatient care at Saint Vincent Hospital, long term care at Worcester State Hospital, outpatient care at Valley Psychiatric Services, and psychiatric triage in the emergency room at Milford Hospital.

“The coping strategies we used when we were 18, or 38, or 58 don’t always work at 88,” she says. “We don’t have to accept being unhappy, unhealthy… help is available.”

If you'd like to contact Gail Bourassa, you may email her at [email protected] or call her at 508-657-2791.





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