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Urgent care centers are common for physical ailments. Could they work for mental health issues, too?

Photo outside of Pine Rest Psychiatric Urgent Care Center's entrance.
Photo courtesy of Colleen Cullison.
“There aren't very many urgent cares quite like this anywhere in the country," Megan Zambiasi said. "Much less in Michigan, especially because we're a private, nonprofit organization." ";

When you have an injury or illness that needs immediate attention, but isn't an emergency, you head to the urgent care center. Those facilities allow people to be seen outside of doctor's office hours while avoiding an expensive trip to the emergency room.

Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids has taken that idea and applied it to mental health treatment.

The organization’s psychiatric urgent care center opened last spring. In more than six months since, it has helped some 3,000 people experiencing a mental health crisis. 

Megan Zambiasi is the director of the Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services Psychiatric Urgent Care Center. She said the center offers an “in-between space” for those who would otherwise have to wait weeks or months for psychiatric evaluation or seek a higher level of care in a hospital or inpatient setting.

Getting treated at Pine Rest’s Psychiatric Urgent Care Center is very similar to a traditional medical urgent care setting. After checking in, staff ask patients why they came in and what kinds of things they are struggling with that day. Then, a medical assistant takes vital signs and assesses a patient’s medical history. A social worker comes in to talk about other things happening in someone's life that may contribute to psychiatric symptoms. 

“And then last, we have you see an advanced practice professional," explained Zambiasi. "That would be a nurse practitioner, or a physician assistant, or a psychiatrist who will assess you and see what we think your next steps in treatment should be.”

Credit Courtesy of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.
A map of where patients who have sought care at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services Psychiatric Urgent Care Center live.

One of the main challenges the center faces is connecting patients with mental health resources in their communities. People come from all over the state, including some from counties that are “pretty far away” from the Grand Rapids area. 

Zambiasi acknowledged that centers like hers do not solve the long-term issue of the lack of mental health care providers in Michigan and in the United States more broadly. She also believes that there is a need to increase the number of people who are able to seek that kind of care on a regular, outpatient basis.

The center has garnered “a lot of interest” from medical organizations across Michigan who are considering starting up a similar program in their own communities. Zambiasi noted that Pine Rest was uniquely poised to take on that challenge because of its high volume of psychiatric staff, but that other medical care providers also have that potential.

“That's why [Pine Rest] decided we'd start with adults, we’d start in Kent County. We’d do what we could where we had kind of a critical mass of those important professionals to provide the service,” Zambiasi said. “But I think other places throughout the state that had that kind of resource would probably be able to run a similar model and do that successfully.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.

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