GRAND RAPIDS — The psychiatric urgent care center that Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services plans to open next spring represents the first step toward broadening access to behavioral health care across West Michigan.
Pine Rest will use outcomes data to gauge whether to expand the center from initially assessing people 18 and older to also serving children, adolescents and seniors. If the psychiatric urgent care center works as intended, the Grand Rapids-based Pine Rest will look at opening other locations where people experiencing acute psychiatric symptoms can seek help, rather than going to a hospital emergency room.
“Because it’s a new concept to our community, we’ll be looking at the data closely to see what the community needs,” Pine Rest CEO Mark Eastburg told MiBiz. “I can imagine an expansion and growth.”
The psychiatric urgent care center will open in the spring of 2019 at the Contact Center on Pine Rest’s Cutlerville campus. Staffed by Pine Rest professionals, including psychiatric residents, the center will open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week and accept commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
Any future expansion of the model could come through partnerships with other care providers. For example, Pine Rest would consider opening a psychiatric urgent care center at a local outpatient or primary care center operated by a health system or in a hospital emergency room, Eastburg said.
Working together with another care provider would align with Pine Rest’s vision “to solve the behavioral health access problem in the communities that we serve through partnerships.”
“We are open to partnering with any organization that would like to work with us,” he said. “It’s our broad strategy to have great, collaborative, critically beneficial relationships with all of the acute-care hospitals in our region.
“We’re wired and ready to partner.”
Any decisions on whether to expand the care model would come at least six months after the opening of the Cutlerville urgent care center. By that time, “we’ll have a pretty good idea what the community response is, where we’re meeting the needs, and where we find we need to grow in order to address gaps,” Eastburg said.
In opening a psychiatric urgent care center, Pine Rest aims to ease pressure on hospital emergency departments, which are not always equipped or staffed to handle behavioral health patients.
“How much can you put on them?” Laura Appel, senior vice president of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said of the emergency departments.
Statistics from the MHA show that one out of five visits to an ER in Michigan is associated with a behavioral health problem. In Grand Rapids, Pine Rest cites 2016 findings that behavioral health was the primary patient need in 14,623 visits to hospital ERs.
“It’s a very difficult situation in how poorly we prepare physicians to deal with this population,” Appel said. “Having a well-designed urgent care center could really improve care for people in psychiatric crisis.”
Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker called Pine Rest’s move “an innovative, much-needed step in creating greater access to psychiatric care” and “a critical component in caring for people at the right time and at the right place.”
Oftentimes, behavioral health patients go to an ER because they have no other options at that moment. That can lead hospitals to “board” behavioral health patients until they can have them referred or transferred to the proper setting for assessments, leading to delays in treatment and to higher costs.
Getting in to see a Pine Rest psychiatrist takes two months or more these days, and that’s an improvement from the past, Eastburg said. Pine Rest has been able to improve access and trim wait times in the five years since it formed a psychiatric residency program, which has helped to ease a shortage of psychiatrists.
The idea for a psychiatric urgent care center “just kind of fell into place” as Pine Rest examined how to improve access to behavioral health care, Eastburg said.
“What we were hearing throughout our conversations with every social entity you can imagine is: Why does it take so long to get good psychiatric care? Why is it so confusing to seek those kinds of services? Why is it the crisis has to be acute, intense and life-threatening for you to get rapid services?” he said. “It sort of became obvious that this space in the middle, somewhere between an outpatient appointment and an inpatient stay, could really serve the community well.”
People are accustomed to the urgent care model for medical care “so it’s not like a brand-new idea that is going to put people off because they’re not familiar with it,” he said.
Pine Rest estimates it will serve 40 people a day at the urgent care center.