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Need a Treatment Bed? In Fresno County There’s an App for That


5-10-2017

FRESNO – An innovative judge and a Central California technology incubator have moved probation and drug court supervision into the era of instant information access.

In Fresno County a newly developed computer dashboard matches drug offenders with real-time available and suitable treatment options, all with the click of a mouse.

No more shuffling paper or making countless telephone calls trying to find an open bed. The computer dashboard does the work, maps the possibilities and matches offenders to the proper care.

“I’m excited for the potential,” said Judge Hilary A. Chittick, who founded the Fresno Superior Court’s Proposition 47 Drug Court and was a driving force behind the app. “Like any new tool, it takes some getting used to.

”The biggest challenge is keeping the dashboard database current. Participating treatment programs can update bed courts with two mouse clicks. Providers are incentivized by the county’s Department of Behavioral Health, which is modifying new contracts to require consistent bed updates. The Judicial Council recidivism reduction grant that funded the development also pays for a part-time staff person to coordinate trainings and updates.

Chittick was surfing the Internet looking for ways to streamline the referral process when she came across the Louisville, Kentucky, Code For America dashboard for its jail population management. Code For America is a non-profit dedicated to making government work smarter.

The judge instantly saw the potential and the court applied for a grant, reaching out to Bitwise, a Fresno technology incubator that houses Shift 3  Technologies. There officials met with Ricardo Banuelos, whose team developed the application with a recidivism reduction grant from the Judicial Council of California.

“We met with probation and they explained their paper-copy process for looking up providers,” Banuelos said. “It could literally take hours to find a place because they were chasing bad information.

The dashboard is designed for use by the county Probation Department and the court’s substance abuse specialists. Most referrals are pre-trial either to treatment or assessment services.

“It not only shows available beds in residential treatment, but also information on existing outpatient treatment programs within a given geographic area,” Chittick said. “We also can print out a map with driving, walking or transit directions. And we just added a referral/appointment mode which allows the referring person to notify the treatment program when a person is referred, and the treatment program to let them know if the person showed up.

”Treatment and assessment locations are pinned to a map. Clicking on a pin reveals information about the program located there, such as whether the facility can treat co-occurring disorders such as substance use disorder and mental illness, and what insurance and funding sources are accepted. Providers update information through a different portal, and get an “urgent notice” alert when they haven’t updated available bed information in longer than a week.

“I believe the tool can benefit the whole county as we try to get our clients into the right treatment program,” said Craig Downing, the Fresno County Probation Services Manager. “Right at your fingertip you can locate whether there is available bed space, if a program is close to transportation services and close to where the client lives. It’s tremendous.”

The process frees up the time of probation officers, who no longer have to call around to find treatment space. It cuts the wait time for offenders, who are most apt to seek help within the first 72 hours after a crisis. Clients automatically receive text messages reminding them of appointments, as well as directions to the facility.

“Conceptually, this makes our lives easier,” said Downing.

The dashboard has been in use for six months, which isn’t enough time to assess data on effectiveness. The kinks still are being worked out. But the courts are so encouraged, Chittick said, that they are expanding it to include domestic violence intervention programs and to add a system for tracking shelter space for trafficked youth.

“Essentially the same concept would be available in any arena where probation has to make a series of calls to locate an available program,” Chittick said.

For more information contact Sheran Morton, the Fresno County Superior Court’s executive officer, at 559-457-2000.