New behavioral health urgent care to combat growing mental health crisis

Nonprofit, police report record numbers needing help

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published April 28, 2021


OAKLAND COUNTY — The Oakland County-based nonprofit organization Common Ground has been working for decades in conjunction with local governments, law enforcement, medical professionals and community groups to help residents find treatment and resources to support their mental welfare or to intervene before an untreated mental illness becomes a crisis.

And because the need for those services has only grown since Common Ground was founded in 1971, the nonprofit has grown, too.

Recently, it announced plans to launch a $1 million Behavioral Health Urgent Care to address the increasing demand from local people facing stress, addiction and other emotional wellbeing issues.

“Southeast Michigan is facing a major shortage of mental health crisis centers,” Heather Rae, the president and CEO of Common Ground, said in a press release. “Our new Behavioral Health Urgent Care will enable us to serve thousands more people who would otherwise suffer in silence or go to a hospital emergency department.”

The Behavioral Health Urgent Care will be Common Ground’s largest expansion initiative in 25 years. It comes as the organization marks its 50th anniversary. It also comes at an unprecedented time in the history of behavioral health care. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a massive jump — a 281.8% increase — of adult respondents reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression between June 2019 and December 2020.

Common Ground provides a crisis hotline, victim assistance and support groups, as well as mobile response units and facility-based services. In addition to providing crisis services at the Resource and Crisis Center, located on the Oakland County government campus in Pontiac, Common Ground also operates a 24-hour shelter for at-risk youth in Royal Oak and mobile crisis teams in Genesee County.

The Resource and Crisis Center treats more than 8,000 people annually, and the urgent care branch is expected to serve an additional 15,000 people a year.

“We work closely with area hospitals and other behavioral health providers in the community,” said Jeffrey Kapuscinski, the chief of external relations for Common Ground. “As an urgent care, we will be treating the immediate need and then likely connecting people with ongoing services as appropriate.”

Among those applauding the urgent care plan is Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. His staff works closely with Common Ground on a number of initiatives, including the jail diversion program, which offers training and evaluation services to law enforcement officers responding to calls that involve a person having a mental health crisis, which may or may not escalate to the level of criminality.

“I’ve been harping on this for more years than I can count that the state and feds have walked away from their duties with mental health,” said Bouchard. “Options have been so severely cut that more and more of these acute mental health moments are happening in the street, and most often times, police are called.”

Those calls involving an emotional crisis really add up, too. It’s only gotten worse since the onset of the pandemic, which has created or worsened untreated mental health issues and has limited access to treatment, or at least created the perception of limited access.

“Years ago, 8% of our jail population was on psychotropic medications. Just before COVID, we were at 32%. A week and a half ago, I asked for a snapshot, and we’re almost at 50%,” Bouchard said. “The largest mental health facility in America is the Los Angeles County Jail, and that’s wrong.”

The jail diversion partnership between the Sheriff’s Office and Common Ground works toward an overall goal of getting people psychological evaluations and possibly treatment as appropriate, as opposed to placing nonviolent mentally ill offenders in lockup.

The urgent care service will play a slightly different role for a wider range of clients. It will complement the new Michigan Crisis and Access Line, known as MiCAL, which is expected to launch before the end of April through pilot programs in Oakland County and the Upper Peninsula.

In December, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services selected Common Ground to staff a new 24-hour crisis call/text/chat hotline and a peer recovery “warmline” for anyone who needs behavioral health or crisis response services. But those services don’t offer an in-person element, as of yet.

“I think there’s cross pollination statewide between services like those from Common Ground and law enforcement. They’ve helped us with understanding how to best approach or deescalate an acute mental health moment. That partnership has been very helpful,” Bouchard said. “We’re excited (for the urgent care).”

To bring the physical urgent care concept to life, Common Ground plans to raise $1 million to develop, build and staff the facility. Organizers hope the service will launch virtually this fall and then open to in-person visits in 2022.

Bouchard says he’s planning to up the ante, too, on mental health resources.

“I plan to go to the County Commission and ask for a budget to create two full-time positions — one for a clinician focused on and responding to external events, and the second to focus on the support and mental health of our people,” he explained. “Police suicides have outstripped line-of-duty deaths. Hopefully, that will give our folks an outlet and the support we want them to have as they face some of the worst things they can imagine.”

Did you know…
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in August that revealed 2 in 5 Americans have reported experiencing anxiety, depression, increased substance use or suicidal thoughts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings show that certain groups, including Black and Hispanic communities, have been disproportionately impacted by virus-related stresses like job loss, isolation and fear of infection.