Mental health crisis center opening in downtown Grand Rapids will fill ‘critical gap’

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – On Monday morning, half a dozen people were in the emergency department at Trinity Health Saint Mary’s seeking treatment for a mental health crisis.

The wait to be placed with the right mental health facility or professional can sometimes take days, said Matt Biersack, president of Trinity Health Grand Rapids.

And it underscores the need for the new 24/7 behavioral health crisis center opening early 2024 that officials say will not only divert people in mental health crises from emergency departments and jails, but also quickly get them the treatment they need during a crisis.

“We have six patients in our emergency department this morning who are waiting for the right care and the right treatment for their mental health crisis,” Biersack said.

“They’re using the hospital emergency department to access those services, and we’re of course happy to help in any capacity we can, but we believe that this (behavioral health crisis center) is going to be the right place and fit the right need for patients in a mental health crisis.”

The new Behavioral Health Crisis Center will be located at 260 Jefferson Ave. SE on Trinity Health Saint Mary’s Grand Rapids’ downtown campus. It’s a partnership between Trinity Health and Network180, which is Kent County’s mental health authority.

Treatment at the center will be available for adults in the county 24/7 via walk-in, and it will be free of charge to all but those whose insurances require copays.

Biersack said an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 patients will be served by the center in 2024, when it opens. Given the demand in the community for these crisis treatment services, Biersack said said he expects that number to grow.

“The crisis center will fill a critical gap in offering safe, secure and immediate behavioral health crisis management for Kent County adults regardless of their ability to pay or their insurance,” he said.

Officials with Trinity Health, Kent County, Network180 on Monday, May 22, held a ceremonial “wall-breaking” where they smashed a wall with a sledgehammer to symbolize the start of renovations to the building where the new Behavioral Health Crisis Center will be located.

Along with those officials, Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom and more were in attendance.

Related: Grand Rapids’ major effort to fundamentally reform behavioral health services becoming a model for others

Services at the center will be available 24/7, with people being able to walk in anytime and receive treatment following an assessment.

There will also be a secure bay for police and emergency medical services personnel to take people in crisis and then quickly return to their work.

The Crisis Stabilization Unit within the center, where people in mental health crisis will be treated, will have capacity for 16 patients at a time with stays ranging up to 72 hours.

“Today, people in crisis often end up in unnecessary placement in an emergency room or with law enforcement. This can be very traumatizing and taxing to both our public safety system as well as the emergency room,” said Bill Ward, executive director of Network180.

“We know a majority of people can be stabilized within 24 hours. With the Crisis Stabilization Unit, a person can remain in a safe, secure, supportive environment for up to 72 hours.”

The center will also have a Brief Intervention Unit, where people who need counseling or other services can receive non-crisis care.

For people on Medicaid, without insurance, or with insurance but without coverage for center care, services will be provided free of charge.

Most insurances are expected to cover the services by 2026, with Blue Cross Blue Shield already signed up, Ward said. Once insurance benefits cover the cost, it could come with a co-pay that would be on the burden of the patient to pay.

The cost of renovating and outfitting the building is expected to be more than $22 million.

State lawmakers have put $5 million toward the project, and Kent County put forward about $4 million in federal stimulus dollars, with those funds paying for people whose insurances currently don’t cover the care along with other costs.

The center has been long in the works, tracing back to around 2017 when Network180 officials and county leaders began serious conversations about a better, more effective and efficient way to address the behavioral health crisis needs in the community.

Input was garnered from a slew of sectors, including the courts, businesses, law enforcement, government, healthcare, social services, mental health systems, education, insurance companies, community advocates and more.

At the time, 10% of emergency department visits at downtown Grand Rapids hospitals involved a behavioral health crisis, Biersack said. About 20% of inmates at the Kent County Jail were prescribed psychiatric medications.

Kent County Board Chair Stan Stek, who has worked on the project since its inception, said there a number of challenges remain to be addressed in Kent County. But, he said, not only will the new center help in part to address those, it also shows what the community can do when working together.

“I think that we continue to look at ways in which we can respond to portions of our populations struggling with homelessness, school violence, suicide and many others,” Stek said. “But the work that we’ve done here over the last five years demonstrates that as a community if we put our minds to it, if we put our hands to it and if we break down the barriers and are willing to collaborate, we will get those challenges done as well.”

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