The psychiatric urgent care center opened by Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services has provided services for nearly 3,000 patients in its first six months of operation.
The psychiatric urgent care center, which opened April 15, was designed to provide same-day assessment and treatment for adults experiencing acute psychiatric symptoms who cannot wait for routine outpatient intervention.
The center has seen patients from 52 of Michigan’s 83 counties, 13 other states and Canada. The largest number of patients came from Kent County at 1,389, with Ottawa and Allegan accounting for an additional 457.
Mark Eastburg, president and CEO of Pine Rest, said staff was unsure what to expect for the area’s first urgent care center of this type, but since psychiatric services are limited around the nation, having so many patients from such a variety of places was no surprise.
“Because access to psychiatric services is so limited, I think it's just becoming a regional draw,” Eastburg said.
Some of these patients were visitors, but staff has seen patients who have driven hours to access the services.
“If you or a loved one is suffering from a psychiatric disorder, you'll think nothing of getting in the car and driving for four hours if it means relief for that, versus maybe waiting for five months,” Eastburg said.
Having dedicated psychiatric urgent care services in West Michigan offers a first option for patients who may have to wait for months to be seen or may otherwise turn to an area emergency department — whether because patients feel that’s their only option or because issues advance to the point of needing medical help.
While there are not yet hard statistics on the financial benefit to health care in the region, Pine Rest has found that 80% of the patients assessed have avoided higher, more expensive levels of care, said Megan Auffrey-Zambiasi, director of the center.
This frees up resources for patients with medical emergencies.
“Providing treatment when people need it most — and in an efficient manner — can help them avoid higher levels of care that would be more disruptive to their lives,” Auffrey-Zambiasi said.
The center serves adults ages 18-65. In the past six months, 47% of patients were ages 18-29, 25% ages 30-39, 14% ages 40-49 and 14% ages 50-65.
Eastburg said the hope is to be able to serve people of all ages down the road.
In the past six months, 72% of patient diagnoses at the center have been anxiety disorder, 55% have been major depressive disorder, 20% have been substance use disorders and 15% have been a variety of other mental health illnesses. Some individuals have had a dual diagnosis.
Patients receive a variety of assessments, including a level of care determination, a social work assessment, psychiatric assessment, illness education to patient and family, and an aftercare plan.
On average, most people are able to be assessed and leave the center with an aftercare plan within two hours, Auffrey-Zambiasi said.
Aftercare treatment plans or the next level of care include outpatient, inpatient, partial hospitalization day program, residential detoxification or an appointment with the patient’s physician or therapist.
“We're glad to be able to say that the vast majority of people coming to the urgent care center really just need a further outpatient follow-up,” Eastburg said. “We're glad that in that sense, we've been part of a prevention system.”
The center is staffed by a multidisciplinary team specifically trained to provide psychiatric assessments and treatment for a range of symptoms, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, disturbing thoughts, suicidal thoughts, acute grief reactions, trouble managing daily activities and substance use disorders.
The center is open for assessments 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on weekends. For shortest wait times, individuals are encouraged to call ahead or arrive in the morning. Those experiencing an acute medical issue should go to a medical urgent care or local emergency room.
Most commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid health plans cover this service. People with Medicaid coverage should call ahead because some plans require authorization for services.
Eastburg said Pine Rest is in discussion about expanding. He said with the center still in its early stages, they’re refining operational procedures and making adjustments as necessary.
As the option of the center continues being shared, Eastburg said he thinks that also helps decrease stigma around needing psychiatric help.
“We send a message that people have all kinds of urgent care needs that need to be addressed, whether it's a sprained ankle or an escalating anxiety disorder. They're all very treatable, and there should be no stigma about seeking services,” he said.