New urgent psychiatric care center in Kalamazoo should benefit the community, police and hospitals
Updated 2 years ago on September 23, 2022
This is a situation all too often faced by residents of the Kalamazoo area: Someone is going through a mental health crisis and has no immediate access to care outside of the hospital emergency room.
This is a problem for psychiatric patients, who may experience long waits in an environment that may cause them to become even more anxious and/or agitated.
This is a problem for law enforcement, who often accompany patients to the emergency room.
This is a problem for hospitals, especially with the statewide shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds, which means that some patients may lie in the emergency room for days waiting for inpatient admission.
Downtown Kalamazoo will now have a new urgent care mental health center that will provide access to mental health services. The project is being implemented by Integrated Services of Kalamazoo, the county mental health agency.
The new building will be located at 440 W. Kalamazoo Ave. near the northeast corner of Kalamazoo and North Westnedge Ave. The new building is planned to have six individual treatment rooms, two crisis treatment rooms and a family treatment room, and offices.
"This will provide same-day access where people can come in and get same-day services," said Jeff Patton, CEO of Integrated Services of Kalamazoo. "We started this a couple of years ago, but it will be expanded with this new center."
One of the main aspects of this expansion: The new urgent care center will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This is a big deal for Kalamazoo County law enforcement.
"There are times when an emergency room is just not an option," said Capt. Rafael Diaz of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. But because of the limited resources we have, it's often the only option, and that's why we're leaning toward it."
"But if it's a mental health crisis with a more limited scope, it may not be consistent with what the ambulance can do," he said, so having another option is welcome.
Officer Derek VanPortFleet of Portage Public Safety agreed.
A mental health emergency center "would be very helpful, especially for those of us who work after hours and can't reach a doctor from 9 to 5," he said. "Having something 24/7 and open on weekends would be a very good resource for those who need help."
"As far as I'm concerned, if someone doesn't qualify for jail or the emergency room, that would be a good option, a middle ground, when none of the existing resources qualify," he said. "If you have a person who hasn't committed a crime and isn't a danger to themselves, we can't take enforcement action. But it would allow us to say, 'Hey, we have a third option. Would you like to talk to a mental health professional?"
Local hospital officials also say they welcome the opening of the new urgent care center.
"Bronson supports the ISK project in every way possible," said Erin Smith of Bronson Healthcare. It will fill an important gap in the continuum of behavioral health services available to local communities."
"In mental health care, as in physical health care, there are times when emergency care is best for what the patient is experiencing," she said. "Getting an assessment at the intermediate care level can effectively stabilize and resolve the problem or determine whether an emergency room visit or hospitalization is appropriate."
Patton said he "really believes that (the new center) will take the load off the emergency departments at our two hospitals."
"It would also relieve the burden on public safety officers, who are often responsible for transporting people to the emergency room, and they often have to spend a huge amount of time in the emergency room" waiting for a psychiatric patient, he said.
It's not a silver bullet. According to Patton, "there will still be gaps" in the continuum of care. "This urgent care and behavioral health access center will not replace inpatient mental health services, which we will still need. But it will still take some of the pressure off."
Construction of the new urgent care center is scheduled to begin in September, with the facility tentatively scheduled to open in 2023, Patton said.
The plans call for demolition of the existing building. The new building will be located next to the existing ISK building at 418 W. Kalamazoo Ave. where youth and family services, services for adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities, and a medical records department are provided.
This story is part of the Mental Wellness Project, a journalism initiative focused on mental health issues in southwest Michigan created by the Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative. SWMJC is a group of 12 regional organizations dedicated to strengthening local journalism. Formore information , visit swmichjournalism.com.
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