Individuals struggling with mental health crises have long been sent to local emergency rooms for evaluation before they can receive treatment. Mount Rogers Community Services hopes to put that practice to rest in the coming year.
The mental health agency plans to open three Crisis Care Centers in its catchment area, the first of which is set to launch in Marion on Sept. 24. Plans for a Wytheville center early next year and a Galax center toward the end of 2020 are also under way.
Mount Rogers Executive Director Sandy Bryant said the centers will allow individuals to connect to psychiatric care much quicker than they would at an emergency room. The idea behind the Crisis Care Centers, she said, is to divert as many individuals as possible from hospitalization or arrest, as well as to allow people to seek needed help before they reach the point of crisis.
“We will have an array of services where we won’t have to wait until they are in need of hospitalization before they can come in and get crisis intervention services,” Bryant said. “If they come in earlier, they’re less likely to need stabilization or private hospitalization.”
Mental health and substance abuse counselors will be on hand to assess an individual’s needs. Medication and detox can begin immediately when needed and medical professionals will also be on staff to help evaluate any medical needs.
With calming rooms, low lights and soothing music, the centers will provide an overall relaxing environment, which Bryant says will better suit the needs of those in or on the brink of crisis.
She noted that the fast-paced and urgent environment of an ER sometimes just doesn’t allow emergency staff to focus on a patient in crisis who doesn’t also have a medical emergency.
“A hospital bay is sometimes the worst place you can be if you’re emotionally in a crisis or trying to get help for substance use or mental health,” she said. “A lot of times in an emergency room setting, there’s such life-and-death issues going on that the emergency staff just can’t give them the attention they need to talk about their crisis and sometimes even with crisis counselors it’s kind of difficult in an open bay where a lot is going on. We want them to walk into an environment where they can relax immediately with low stimulation.”
Bryant believes the centers will provide relief for individuals in crisis, as well as emergency room staff and law enforcement. The agency hopes to cut down on the number of emergency custody and temporary detention orders by having those individuals brought to a Crisis Care Center instead.
She pointed out that in other states where the same model is already in use about 95 percent of individuals who would have been hospitalized were successfully diverted to a crisis unit.
Those seeking help at the center can immediately be evaluated and directed toward the most appropriate treatment, said Mount Rogers spokesperson Logan Nester. Sometimes that treatment might call for a stay at a psychiatric hospital. Other times, out-patient treatment will be the more appropriate option.
“The great thing about the Crisis Care Center is that you just walk in — there’s no referral process — you just walk in and you’re going to be met by trained medical and mental health professionals. Whether it’s in our continuum of services or not, they’re going to get you into services,” Nester said. “This should really fill a lot of gaps in that continuum of care, just given that anybody can walk in at any time. This is kind of a no wrong door solution.”
In still other instances, individuals might just need a quick chat with a counselor to keep them on track in their recovery. Bryant believes those in need of short-term, but immediate guidance on any mental health or substance use issue will benefit from the centers.
“It’s not just about crisis,” Bryant said. “It’s about recovery. You can come every day for a week, if you feel like you need that support, or you can come every day for 15 days if you need to. The ultimate goal is to get them to the right level of care.”
Being able to directly connect and introduce individuals to service providers is one of the most important aspects of the centers, Bryant said.
“A warm handover is absolutely critical for people to feel comfortable coming in for that second appointment,” she explained. “If there’s not a warm handover, 80 percent of those people, at times, don’t come back for their next appointment. Where there’s a warm handover, where they actually meet whoever is going to be providing their case management or counseling on the same day as they have their assessment, they’re much more likely to stay in treatment and keep their appointments.”
In addition to mental health services, the Crisis Care Centers will also have folks on staff who will be able to help individuals sign up for programs like Medicaid, EBT, social security disability and housing among others. The center will also be able to offer limited transportation.
Nester pointed out that “when someone shows up in crisis and you talk to them and you find out that they don’t have insurance or they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or they have diabetes or some other illness that hasn’t been actively treated in five years — if you don’t start hooking them up with those services, they’re going to show back up in crisis again. Mental health is not isolated and substance use disorders are not isolated.”
Starting off, the Marion center, called the Smyth Crisis Care Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bryant said the agency’s goal is to operate 24/7 facilities in each location as funding comes available. The centers are funded through the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health, as well as other emergency funds.
The Smyth Crisis Care Center is located at 1590 North Main Street in the old Virginia Employment Commission building. Until recently, that building housed the agency’s Smyth Counseling Center.
The Wythe-Bland Crisis Care Center will be housed in the former health department building at 750 West Ridge Road in Wytheville. That center will serve both Wythe and Bland county residents and the Galax center will serve both Grayson and Carroll counties.
Each center’s close proximity to the community’s hospital will allow Mount Rogers to work closely with Ballad Health and Lifepoint to better coordinate patient care, Bryant said.
Until the Wythe and Galax centers open, the agency encourages residents from throughout the catchment area to make use of the Marion center whenever they feel the need.
Mount Rogers will hold an open house for the Smyth Crisis Center Sept. 24 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.