CUTLERVILLE — The psychiatric urgent care center Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services opened in the spring treated nearly 3,000 people during its first six months, proving a need to improve access to behavioral health care.
The patient volume recorded at the urgent care center, located at Pine Rest’s 68th Street campus in Cutlerville, was “right about where we thought we would be,” said Pine Rest CEO Mark Eastburg.
“We’re giving people rapid access to psychiatric care in minutes, instead of days, weeks or months,” said Eastburg, referring to the wait times an outpatient appointment with a behavioral health care provider.
Eastburg tells of one woman who drove to Cutlerville from the east side of the state to seek assistance; she told Pine Rest her outpatient appointment was 11 months away.
“Clearly, the center has improved access to psychiatric care and fills a gap in the local behavioral health care system,” Eastburg said. “It’s going really well. People are making use of it.”
The psychiatric urgent care center assesses and treats adults experiencing psychiatric symptoms for depression, anxiety, panic attacks, disturbing or suicidal thoughts, acute grief or substance use disorders.
In opening the psychiatric urgent care center on April 15, Pine Rest sought to provide better access for people who need immediate behavioral health care and often wind up in hospital emergency rooms, most of which are not as readily equipped or staffed to handle their conditions. The three hospitals in Kent County in 2016 recorded more than 14,000 ER visits from patients with a behavioral health condition who could have been better assessed and handled in another setting, according to Pine Rest.
It remains difficult to gauge how many of the nearly 3,000 people who went to the psychiatric urgent care center through September would have otherwise gone to a hospital ER, Eastburg said, noting many may have waited until their condition worsened before seeking care.
“That is hard to track,” he said. “(But) anecdotally, we believe it’s having an impact.”
An announcement this week from Pine Rest about the early results quoted Dr. Nicholas Kuhl, medical director of Spectrum Health’s Butterworth Hospital Emergency Department, that the urgent care center “is a needed addition to the options available in Kent County.”
“It’s good to know it’s being utilized,” Kuhl said.
Pine Rest wants to open more psychiatric urgent care centers, although it’s too early to decide whether to proceed and where to put additional locations.
“I don’t think we’re ready to do that yet. We are still learning,” Eastburg said.
Part of the challenge with the additional locations is that basing the first urgent care center at the Cutlerville campus enables Pine Rest to leverage staff and support services. A standalone location lacking that readily available backing “presents another set of challenges,” Eastburg said.
Before it expands the care model, Pine Rest also needs to assess the need for access at night, he said. The urgent care center currently is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Average monthly visits to the psychiatric urgent care center steadily grew to 19.5 per day by September from an initial 13.9 per day in April.
Patients have come to center from 52 of the 83 counties in Michigan and from 13 other states and Canada, presumably in instances where people were visiting the Grand Rapids area. Nearly 1,400 visits were from Kent County residents, and another 457 came from neighboring Ottawa and Allegan counties.
Younger patients from 18 to 29 years old accounted for 47 percent of all visits, followed by the 30- to 39-year-old age group at 25 percent. People 40 to 49 years old and 50 and older each accounted for 14 percent of visits, respectively.
Anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders were the leading conditions diagnosed.