Microsoft Technology: Software Leveraged to Provide Better Quality Mental Health Services

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Sanctuary House of Santa Barbara, Inc. dba Sanctuary Psychiatric Centers of Santa Barbara
City & State:
Santa Barbara, 
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

Continuum of treatment for seriously mentally ill (disabled) adults in order to prevent further hospitalization, create opportunities for community  reintegration, and extend an on-going safety net to ensure long term remission at little or no cost to clients, while maintaining the highest treatment and professional standards.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

At Sanctuary Psychiatric Centers of Santa Barbara, we have always been focused on client care. Our agency is a small non-profit organization that provides mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment to the community of Santa Barbara County. The focus of our varied programs is to help our clients lead stable and fulfilled lives. One of the main challenges of our agency as a non-profit is how to maximize our ability to provide services for clients in a relatively underfunded and unglamorous niche. Programs like TechSoup that make software available to us at a discounted rate are vital to our success and this success translates directly into quality of life improvements for our clients.

For years, Sanctuary has known that software can be leveraged to provide better quality services. Over 20 years ago, we designed an in-house tool to manage electronic patient records called Chartman—a flexible, all-encompassing electronic record keeping system for the treatment of patients with mental illness. In order to provide the best treatment possible we need to have complete command of the very complex information involved in treatment such as counseling notes, therapeutic treatment planning, current and historical medication regimens, substance abuse testing, interaction with law enforcement, hospitalizations, and billing records. In the face of increasing HIPAA requirements and the infrastructure needs that come with this vast amount of confidential personal medical and treatment information, we recently completed a total redesign of this application using Microsoft SQL Server 2005 as the back-end. This has breathed new life into the software at the core of our business and allowed us to retire an outmoded and clumsy flat-file database, prone to corruption and data loss. The bulletproof nature of SQL means we can rely on it to care for our data as much as we care for the clients themselves.

The benefits go beyond just stability and modernity. Being able to electronically manage our records increases our staff productivity and less time spent writing and filing paperwork means more time can be spent providing services to clients at a lower cost. Since our move to SQL, we have seen tremendous performance improvements that translate directly into more staff time. We can quickly and accurately report data to government programs, private insurance companies, client families, and compete effectively for grant funding with thorough data. As a side benefit we are also able to run the latest version of Microsoft Dynamics to manage our agency’s accounting and financial reporting system. Without access to discounted software, this quite simply would not have been possible.

Our reliance on Microsoft software goes further than that. We have multiple locations which provide different services to our clients and keeping the data centralized required a full T-1 private connection between our various sites. Switching to Terminal Server/Remote Desktop Connections allowed us to do away with the tremendous overhead of running our applications across a WAN. Our application performance improved considerably, reducing costs, and our staff was able to access up-to-date information at all of our sites. We utilize the ability to remote control sessions as a training tool and to troubleshoot application issues.

We leverage Microsoft’s Server technology across our agency to make our business function on every level. We host our own websites using Internet Information Services. Our e-mail is setup using Microsoft Exchange. In order for our staff to provide the best possible care for people in our community in need of mental health care, we need to be able be to maintain constant in-depth communication between our counselors, doctors, law firms and local/state government agencies. Microsoft Exchange Server has provided a robust email platform and the ability to host our own webmail gives much-needed flexibility to our staff who need to be able to have centralized email contact from multiple offices or in the field while providing care to patients with in-home supportive services. Its internal management tools allow our staff to focus on things other than looking up contact information in a hard copy directory and something as simple as adding a privacy statement to all our e-mails ensures our agency’s policies are protected.

Using Microsoft Server’s Routing and Remote Access allows us to configure secure, remote VPN connections to our network resources. This has reduced our reliance on onsite IT personnel and correspondingly affords them more time to work with staff on client-related matters.

Being able to get licenses for desktop operating systems has helped keep us secure and up-to-date. Deploying Windows XP throughout our network has cut down tremendously on IT overhead as prior to that we had a mix of operating systems (Windows 98/ME/NT/2000).

Similarly, deploying the same version of Office agency-wide allows us to work more efficiently without version incompatibilities or missing features from workstation to workstation. Outlook’s integration with our Exchange infrastructure means our administrative staff can create distribution lists and update contact information, as well as archive large amounts of e-mail for our records. We use PowerPoint for our presentations and Word and Excel are invaluable office tools used throughout our agency.

In every facet of our agency, Microsoft products are an integral component of our business as well as our clinical workflow. In the clinical realm, an important part of our Vocational Rehabilitation program is to place clients in paid part-time employment in order to foster a sense of self worth, identity, economic self sufficiency, development of appropriate social skills, and an opportunity to gain new skills. For over 33 years, we have provided job development and job coaching services in order to support and normalize our clients’ successful re-entry into the world of work. In April of 2008, we took a survey amongst our clients with 49% stating they desired more vocational and educational assistance. Up to this time, very few of these individuals had a working knowledge of computers, software programs, and/or the skills necessary to be viable within the community workforce. As such, our Vocational Specialist instituted individual and group trainings using various Microsoft products. Within one year (follow up survey completed May 2009) only 19% of our clients required more assistance with computer literacy and we more than doubled the amount of clients who now work or volunteer within local agencies (from 20% to 46%).

From people at risk for homelessness to those in need of substance abuse counseling or even those whose mental illness require residential or in-home supportive services, all of them benefit when our business functions better. Moreover, our business functions better when we have access to up-to-date software technologies at a minimum of cost.

Submission Category
Stable and Secure Technology