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Opinion: Innovative crisis center becoming a model for the state

Truth Be Told

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A tweet from Burrell Behavioral Health caught my attention recently. It said Burrell’s Crisis Center Rapid Access Unit saved our community’s law enforcement, first responders and hospital emergency departments at least $4.4 million, and potentially up to $6.6 million, in just its first year of operation.

The dollar figure, based on cost-saving models using census and diversion data, is impressive. Too often, a jail cell or an ER bed serve those dealing with behavioral health challenges. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates one in eight emergency department visits are related to a mental disorder or substance abuse issue. And jails often are coined as the country’s largest mental health facilities.

While those resources certainly have their place in this conversation, health officials say they shouldn’t be the default for care. The center provides an innovative option for those in crisis.

That’s the part of Burrell’s tweet that really got my attention: the people behind the dollars. Burrell spokesperson Matt Lemmon says the most recent count available is 1,650 people served.

There are many factors that dictate mental health outcomes, like income level and ethnicity, for instance. But access to care greatly affects outcomes. It can be the difference between a suicide or overdose and life.

The 32-seat center (reduced to 16 seats currently due to COVID-19 protocols) is open around the clock to adults in need of immediate psychiatric or substance abuse-related care. In Springfield, the Community Mental Health and Substance Use Assessment in 2019 helped identify the problem of mental health care access, and community leaders started envisioning a drop-in center as part of the solution. Lemmon says people are seen regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status. He says if someone is eligible for help, they’ll be seen.

Many of those who have used the crisis center in Springfield so far are self-referred or walk-ins, Lemmon says, and local law enforcement and hospitals have diverted patients to the crisis center. It’s a place to stabilize and determine what’s the next best step in care, Lemmon says. Sometimes that’s with another Burrell service, like its three-day crisis stabilization unit or 28-day substance use unit, or sometimes that’s getting connected with the patient’s providers.

The center is a partnership between Burrell, the Healthy Living Alliance and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. The Greene County Commission dedicated $1 million to the project and Mercy Springfield Communities and CoxHealth support the initiative through referrals.

“We knew we were facing a community problem that needed a community solution,” Burrell’s C.J. Davis said at a news conference marking the center’s first-year anniversary. “When we have conversations about mental health and local leaders get invested in mental health, that’s when change happens.”

Leaders across the state have taken notice of what’s happening in Springfield. In June, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas visited the crisis center.

“We talk a lot about the results of our lack of investment in behavioral health: violent crime, substance abuse. I like that we’re getting to root causes here,” he said. “I have not seen a better standalone facility in Missouri that is addressing behavioral health issues.”

And on Aug. 11, Burrell announced it would partner with stakeholders in Columbia to build a crisis center in the city. Lemmon says it will be funded through a public-private partnership, and the model has potential across the state.

Burrell’s innovative leadership in the field of mental health care is getting Springfield the right kind of attention and providing much needed support to people in crisis across our region.

If you know someone with mental health challenges, you know how critical access to care is, and that not all help is created equal. I join many others in applauding Burrell and its partners for their work through the Rapid Access Unit to provide quality, dignified care to our community.

This is a community problem, yes, but it’s also a community opportunity. What would our community look like with accessible mental health care for all? I’ll be watching as the results unfold.

Springfield Business Journal Executive Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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