Picture a typical urgent care on Saturday night. In one roomette, a man is sitting on the bed holding his bandaged arm. He has cut it on a broken window and says it’s pretty bad. In another bed a teenage girl is complaining of intestinal pain. She’s been out of the country and wonders if it’s something she ate. A parent is holding a crying baby in yet another area.
Imagine that the next person to walk through the door is an adult whose complaint is that he’s anxious and depressed. Whom do you think is the first priority here? Likely not the anxious and depressed person.
Now picture a type of urgent care that specializes in mental health treatment. Sound far-fetched? It’s happening. One facility is described in the article “Treat the Whole Person, What Will it Take to Improve Access to Mental Health Care in NJ?” in a local paper. What exactly is happening? “A growing number of providers and insurers are trying to catch patients with mental illnesses early, keep them out of the expensive emergency department, and begin to beat back the rising tide of suicide and addiction,” the writer says.
The article mentions Hackensack Meridian Health system as a model for this new type of urgent care center. It’s comparable to an outpatient center for behavioral health care, and the hospital sees it as “another key piece in ensuring mental health gets the same attention that physical health receives.”
Nearly 20% of people with mental illnesses also have a substance use disorder, the article says, and unfortunately, these people “have been treated separately from those with physical health issues, even though the two are intertwined.”
It’s a sea change for health care. With these centers, providers and insurers hope to put the brakes on suicide and addiction. Patients with mental health problems are stigmatized and set aside in the current health care system which too often still considers mental health a personal failing instead of a chronic disease. These centers will treat people as if they have a chronic disease, and they’ll treat “the whole person” by treating their physical and mental issues.
It will likely come as no surprise that a 70-year-old father and the mother of a 35-year- old who suffered from alcohol use disorder funded the urgent care facility. The son went to treatment 15 times, made frequent trips to the ER and had relapse after relapse. He died several years ago and they wanted to do something to address what they thought was missing in the health care system. The urgent care facility is for people whose illness does not require hospital stays, and may have helped their son.
People in the health care industry quoted in the article called the Meridian center a “model for the industry” and said what is extraordinary about it is that it’s so ordinary. It’s out in the open, it has a parking lot, and it’s not hidden away someplace.
One noticeable problem is the hours—8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Mental health and addiction issues don’t happen during set hours; the center needs to be staffed 24 hours.