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Burrell Behavioral Health CEO C.J. Davis says the pending merger with Youth Bridge will provide access to 750,000 people in Arkansas.
Burrell Behavioral Health CEO C.J. Davis says the pending merger with Youth Bridge will provide access to 750,000 people in Arkansas.

Partnering Up: Burrell grows by building community partnerships

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Burrell Behavioral Health has organized a trio of community partnerships in the past four months.

The Springfield-based company, which serves 17 counties in Missouri, is making a concerted effort to expand its reach for mental health services, said C.J. Davis, president and CEO.

“Rather than sit back and wait for people to walk through our doors, how can we create access points, where people can find their way to Burrell – either naturally or, in some cases, easier?” he said of the growth strategy.

To help meet that need, Burrell is now partnering with Greene County Family Justice Center, Springfield Public Schools and Mercy Springfield Communities. Those partnerships are in addition to a longstanding relationship with CoxHealth, for which Burrell provides mental and behavioral health services, such as counseling and substance abuse treatment.

Joining forces
Davis said community mental health centers, like Burrell, can’t expect people to travel to them for help. But he recognizes they may have more trust or comfort in visiting a local hospital or school system. He said Burrell initiated the conversations to expand its focus to health care, school systems and legal environments where prospective clients already are interacting.

“If we really want to reach the folks that are out there suffering in silence, we need to go out to those locations,” he said.

At the Greene County Family Justice Center, two Burrell staffers are on-site Monday through Friday to provide immediate counseling or mental health services that previously would have required a referral to another site, said Jamie Willis, justice center project coordinator.

“So far, we’ve had a great response,” she said, adding services started March 4. “We’re keeping them busy.”

As of March 11, the justice center had served 516 adults and 102 children since opening in October 2018, Willis said, adding discussions to involve Burrell in providing services started around that same month. It just took time to determine where to locate additional employees in the center’s limited 3,000-square-foot space.

“We’re all elbow to elbow in here, but providing these services was the most important thing,” she said, adding Burrell is providing in-kind service in exchange for office space.

Discussions also were ongoing for several months with Mercy personnel, said Dea Geujen, chief nursing officer. The end result led to Burrell psychiatrists and counselors joining staff in Mercy’s emergency department and at the Marion Center, its inpatient psychiatric unit. Financial terms were not disclosed.

“They are in the heart of the emergency department as they are dong the patient psychiatric assessment,” Geujen said. “It’s a very integrated model and it’s so important they’re all working together to provide care to the patient.”

Geujen said Burrell started helping in the emergency department Jan. 7. In the first month of service, they helped shave off 60 minutes from the time between when a patient arrives at the department to their initial interaction with a behavioral health clinician. The wait time is typically two to four hours for a full evaluation, she added.

Not a day goes by when mental or behavioral health services aren’t needed at the hospital, Geujen said.

“It’s an everyday need. There is just an overall shortage of providers for mental health and we are going to have to be thinking differently to meet the need,” she said, noting Mercy recognized before the Burrell collaboration it didn’t have enough staff to handle the mental health demand. “It’s been an exceptional partnership.”

The Burrell partnership with SPS is focused on staffing the Hillcrest High School attendance boundary, which represents around 4,000 students, said Mike Dawson, SPS chief learning officer. He said the partnership was possible by the district’s ability to take advantage of mental health services reimbursement through Medicaid.

Dawson estimated 5-10 percent of the Hillcrest student population – between 200 and 400 youth – might qualify for services. The boundary also includes Bowerman, Fremont, Robberson, Truman, Watkins and Williams elementary schools, as well as Pleasant View and Reed middle schools.

Burrell staff is providing on-site therapeutic care and case management services for students, along with training and consultation for faculty, Dawson said, adding the services are being provided at no cost to the district. Student services are expected to start after spring break, he added.

Seven Burrell staffers have been embedded in the district to provide assessments and support, Dawson said, adding the partnership will expand staff to around 20.

“Public schools are a reflection of our community,” he said. “I’m just thankful we have a partner in Burrell that can provide seamless services for our children in real time.”

School districts likely will be seeing a lot more Burrell staff in the near future, Davis said, noting 200 new employees are expected to be embedded across southwest Missouri in the next 18 months.

Keep on growing
The moves have resulted in Burrell adding around 150 people to its staff over the past 18 months, Davis said, and approximately 80 of those are behavioral health providers. In total, Burrell employs nearly 1,500.

“I think our organization could double in size in the next five years,” he said. “That’s what we’re projecting.”

Part of that growth could come from the Natural State. A previously announced merger with Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Youth Bridge Inc. is nearing completion, Davis said, noting the deal should close by April. Burrell would be the controlling partner, according to the deal’s terms, which were not disclosed. Youth Bridge currently serves eight Arkansas counties.

Davis said Burrell has grown from a company with an $85 million budget in fiscal 2017, when he joined the organization, to a projected $125 million total at the end of the current fiscal year.

“We’ve grown pretty significantly in our revenue and that’s a combination of growing services and gaining more market share, and adding new staff,” he said.

As Burrell’s employee count grows, so too does the total number of people it serves. According to Burrell, it has more than 40,000 clients in Missouri, with another 5,000 to be added when the deal with Youth Bridge closes.

The Arkansas merger is part of Burrell’s desire to become a regional behavioral health care network, Davis said. Adding Fayetteville to its service area would give the organization access to a larger workforce of around 750,000 people, he said.

“We really believe having a regional footprint will not only increase the number of employees in our organization but also increase our bandwidth to provide more care to Missourians,” he said.

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