Access Clinician Ima Veal Helps Save Lives in Tense Call

Ima VealIt was a typical Tuesday morning when the call came in to Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Access Clinician Ima Veal. The man said he wanted to drive his car into a tree. She was relieved, at first, to learn that he wasn't driving and wanted help.

“Then the tables turned," Veal said. “He began to argue with family members who were in the room with him. If it wasn't for his wife yelling at him to put down the gun, I might not have known how volatile the situation was. As soon as I heard that three-letter word (gun), I knew this was the nightmare of a call that all therapists dread."

Veal said she kicked into crisis mode by alerting a colleague (Access Clinician Bill Cook) that she needed 911. Cook contacted law enforcement for assistance, giving them the demographic information and the nature of the call.

“At the same time, I had to remember to keep myself in check and try to engage the caller to deescalate him enough to get more information," Veal said.

Access Clinician Supervisor Maureen O'Callaghan and Access Clinician Manager Scott Evans said they wanted to recognize Veal for her efforts for a successful conclusion to the tense call so they nominated her to be featured Leadership in Action, which acknowledges employees whose work-related achievements make them stand out at Cardinal Innovations.   

“These clinicians demonstrated great poise during a stressful event but that is a typical day here in the Access Department," O'Callaghan said about Veal and Cook. “Both team members spoke with law enforcement during and after the call which even further demonstrates our great relationship with local police departments."

Veal said the call was scary and stressful, but she continued to speak calmly to the man until he began to deescalate. “I just kept asking him questions to keep him on the line, as we typically do, while at the same time giving details to my colleague via instant messaging to share with law enforcement," she said.

Eventually, law enforcement asked Veal to end the call so they could take over, but the stress of the crisis had affected her, too. “Without my colleagues, I would have no help and feel like I'm on a deserted island. Bill was a great help to me that day," she said.

“After I hung up, it took a few minutes to decrease my heart rate and prepare my mind for the next call," she said. “Fortunately, when your supervisor and coworkers are therapists, you just call them to process what happened. Lucky for me, I have an excellent supervisor and very empathetic colleagues. We talked about it and the day went on."

Veal has worked as an Access Clinician for Cardinal Innovations for four years and said it is both challenging and rewarding to be part of that team.

“We have to constantly multi-task and we never know what is waiting at the other end of the phone line. We have to be prepared to deal with a crisis and we have to help people problem-solve their concerns in a matter of minutes," she said.

“Sometimes people just need a listening ear and a chance to think out loud, and sometimes they need an objective person to give input or guide them toward resources," she said. “The rewarding part is when members and their families tell us we gave them just what they needed at that moment. It's also rewarding when we hear about a positive outcome for a member, like when emergency services get to the member before harm is inflicted on anyone."  

Veal said a typical day for her involves answering calls with varying levels of urgency, calling Mobile Crisis providers, scheduling assessment appointments for members, responding to BoldChat (instant messages) on Cardinal Innovations' website and many other tasks. Most days don't involve a caller with a gun, but there have been other similar calls. One that stands out was a call from a member who said he was a veteran and planned to use a grenade to end his life, she said.

“Thankfully, these types of calls don't happen to the same clinician every day, but they do happen," Veal said.

Veal said she wishes more people knew about all of the hard workers in the Access Department and how much they care about the members Cardinal Innovations serves.

“We have a huge responsibility to be on the front lines where we must be ready at all times for the person calling in for help, and because of that we have to know a lot about a lot," she said. “There are 20 counties, but we also handle calls for other MCOs. That's a lot of people and a lot of info. Thankfully, our clinical manager implemented a system to help keep track of all the things we need to know. And we couldn't do much without IT keeping our technology running."

Veal said she stays energized and inspired by her work because she enjoys helping others and work for Cardinal Innovations gives her the chance to do that every day.  

“Whether I'm connecting people to services or providing treatment to people with MH/SUD/IDD diagnoses, I am looking to improve their quality of life, which will strengthen our communities," she said. “Improving someone's health and wellness will improve their quality of life. I believe that what we do for our members here at Cardinal Innovations is making a difference in someone's life. That is what keeps me going."

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