Vermont is addressing the ever-growing mental health crisis with a forward-thinking idea –mental health urgent care centers across the state, including an inaugural one in the Northeast Kingdom, an area that represents more than 2,000 square miles and a 2010 census population of 64,764 people.
The idea behind the concept is that the centers provide services to people of all ages who are suffering from suicidal thought or ideations, panic attacks, and other psychiatric and mental health crises, resulting in less strain on local medical resources.
The individuals experiencing these conditions can walk into a center off the street without an appointment and see a trained clinician who would assess if they need to stay for a few days for observation.
The proposal announced in March is a tangible way to serve people in need before they end up in a hospital emergency department, oftentimes in depressing cement walled rooms where they wait for days, weeks, or even months for treatment.
“Mental health urgent care establishes an alternative space for those experiencing urgent mental health needs, diverting them from emergency departments and minimizing unnecessary police involvement,” said Vermont Department of Mental Health Deputy Commissioner Alison Krompf, MA, speaking about what prompted the effort.
“Amidst the pandemic, diverting individuals from emergency departments has become increasingly imperative as the pandemic caused a surge in emergency department overcrowding and prolonged wait times for those experiencing a mental health crisis. Furthermore, criminal justice involvement can have long-term collateral consequences for youth and adults.”
She said it is important to offer this unique service, especially as mental health issues continue to rise as a result of the pandemic — and Krompf feels the benefits will be exponential.
“Our approach is rooted in multidisciplinary teamwork, prioritizing autonomy, empowerment, respect, hope, and community connection, all within a comfortable, warm, and inviting environment,” Krompf said.
“Visitors have the flexibility to remain on-site during weekdays and daytime hours, benefiting from peer support, crisis de-escalation, safety planning, clinical assessments, and psychiatric supports.”
In addition to the center in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, six additional urgent care models will be rolled out across the state in the coming year.
Krompf noted that an adult focused “emergency department alternative” called Interlude opened in August in Addison County.
“Interlude has been carefully designed as a voluntary, homelike, and trauma-sensitive environment,” she said.
“The program offers an alternative, supportive space aimed at fostering a new way of being with one another during mental health crises,” she said.
Krompf noted that three psychiatric urgent cares for kids are being planned for implementation by the end of the year as well as another adult living room model in Lamoille County in the next six months.
Slated to open in the summer of 2024, is a mental health urgent care model in Chittenden County. This center will be done in collaboration with the University of Vermont Medical Center and the Community Health Center of Burlington.