Crisis Care Center provides quick access to mental health professionals?

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Rapid City Journal Heidi Bell Gease, Journal staff Original Article Pennington County residents having mental health or substance-abuse crises can now get help 24 hours a day through the Crisis Care Center – and possibly avoid a trip to jail or a stay in the psychiatric unit in the process. Dozens of people gathered Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the Crisis Care Center on the second floor of Rapid City Regional's Behavioral Health Center on Mountain View Road. The center is a project of the Black Hills Mental Health/Substance Abuse Change Collaborative, which is a coalition of 36 local agencies and government entities. The Crisis Care Center is designed to help people dealing with problems – from thoughts of suicide to feeling overwhelmed – to get quick access to mental health professionals who can evaluate their situation and get them the level of care they need. Officials said it will also provide a much-needed alternative to costly hospital stays and incarceration. "This day has been a long time coming," said Alan Solano, chief executive officer of Behavior Management Systems, the collaborative's lead agency. The collaborative was initiated by the John T. Vucurevich Foundation in response to a January 2007 Black Hills Community Needs Assessment that showed serious gaps in access to mental health and substance abuse services for low- and middle-income people. The need for mid-level health services was a common theme, said Sandy Diegel, executive director of the Vucurevich Foundation. The collaborative applied unsuccessfully for a $500,000 grant to start a Crisis Care Center, but local and regional entities pledged more than $3 million to fund the project for three years. The Crisis Care Center opened Jan. 31. Since then it has seen 10 people, six of whom would otherwise have ended up in jail, detox, or a hospital facility, Solano said. One was a 22-year-old intoxicated woman serving a one-year probation sentence. After getting into a fight with her boyfriend, she intentionally cut herself, Solano said. A neighbor called police. In the past, Solano said, the responding officer would have had to decide whether to arrest the woman for violating her probation, take her to detox to sober up, or place her under a mental hold and take her to Regional's psychiatric unit because of the cutting. This time the officer had another option. He took the woman to the Crisis Care Center, where she had a medical evaluation and met with a qualified mental health professional. Once the crisis had passed – in less than 24 hours – the woman was released. A case manager was assigned to help her connect with community resources such as Rebound, a county program that helps people with substance abuse problems stay out of jail. Solano said officials hope the Crisis Care Center will reduce admissions to the emergency department, psychiatric unit, jail and detox by 700 annually, saving time and money for everyone involved. Dr. Mark Garry, a psychiatrist and medical director for the Crisis Care Center, said about 70 percent of patients admitted to the psychiatric unit are discharged within 24 hours. Many of those people don't need that level of care and could instead be helped through the crisis center at far less expense. "It's an enormous amount of paperwork, and it's expensive," Garry said. He said staff at the psychiatric unit currently spends most of their time with intakes and discharges. Solano said the program's other goals include improving client access to follow-up treatment, increasing people's awareness of the mental health and substance abuse services available to them before they reach a state of crisis, and improving coordination of services among agencies. "This is really a fantastic thing that's happened," said Dr. James Gilbert, an emergency department physician and chairman of Regional Hospital's emergency department. He believes people in crisis can be helped faster and less expensively through the care center. "The beauty of it is there's so many organizations involved." Both Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender and Pennington County Commissioner Don Holloway, who served as sheriff through December 2010, said local law enforcement officers – all of whom will undergo 40 hours of crisis-intervention training – are open to trying a new approach to dealing with the mentally ill or addicted people they encounter on a regular basis. "There has to be a better way to do business and provide services to these folks that desperately need it," Allender said. "I think we're all trying to figure out a better way of doing things and a more efficient way of doing things," Holloway said. Key supporters have pledged $3.6 million to fund the program for three years, during which time the collaborative will gather information on the center's effectiveness and cost savings. Major supporters include Regional Hospital, which has pledged $1.5 million; Pennington County, $1 million; Rapid City Vision 2012, $500,000; John T. Vucurevich Foundation, $500,000; South Dakota Community Foundation, $45,000; Pioneer Bank & Trust and F.L. Clarkson Family Foundation, $30,000; Deanna Lien, $15,000; Gwendolyn Stearns Foundation, $5,000; and Rapid City Community Development Bloc Grant, $5,000. Contact Heidi Bell Gease at 394-8419 or

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