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New mental health urgent care clinic offers alternative to ECMC emergency room

Those who struggle with mental illness sometimes lack awareness as their health deteriorates into a crisis – one that can end in this region with a frantic visit to the Erie County Medical Center mental health emergency room.

Such visits can be overwhelming, particularly when the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP) is overrun with patients, including some struggling to control their behavior.

Spectrum Health & Human Services aims to change that dynamic – and take some pressure off CPEP – with an urgent access clinic opened in February for those 18 and older with immediate behavioral health and substance abuse rehabilitation needs.

The clinic sits on the lower level – the staff calls it “the garden level” – of the three-story Certified Behavioral Health Clinic at 1280 Main St., near Delta Sonic Car Wash.

It takes a holistic approach in a quiet place for those who seek care before a major mental health episode.

“Most of the individuals that we work with are not accessing health care in a traditional manner,” said Kevin Beckman, managing director of clinical services at the Main Street site, one of several that Spectrum operates in Erie and Wyoming counties. “They're usually presenting to the emergency department … and then, after they are discharged, they historically don't follow up with any care until there's another emergent need.”

Urgent care clinical staff includes behavioral health and substance abuse counselors, as well as three certified nurse practitioners trained to work with those who have mental and physical health needs. The NPs can conduct physical exams, provide vaccinations and write prescriptions.

Services in the building also include individual and group mental health and substance abuse rehab treatment, helping clients apply for Medicaid and find jobs, housing and other services if needed, and providing family support along the way.

“When they come in here, we're treating the whole person,” said Marlene Latona, Spectrum vice president of nursing at health integration services.

“There’s no wrong door, no wrong floor here,” Beckman added.

Those who arrive at the urgent access clinic can wait in a group room or a smaller lounge if that makes them more comfortable.

“A clinician will do an assessment right out of the gates to find out where the client is,” Latona said. “Do they need to see holistic health? Do they just need clinic services and aren’t in any sort of crisis? Maybe they need help with managing symptoms. Maybe they need groups on coping skills, or maybe they just need to get medications.”

As in all cases with mental health assessments, if someone is clearly a threat to themselves or someone else, they will need to go to CPEP, where a similar process will take place to determine if an inpatient hospital stay will help.

The new clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Beckman said hours may be expanded if demand dictates. People are welcome to drop in or call 539-6743 for more information.

Spectrum accepts Medicaid and most health insurance, and the clinic will treat anyone regardless of their ability to pay.

“If you come in at 8 o'clock, we're going to serve you at 8 o'clock," Latona said. "We are going to make sure that you see an NP, we're gonna make sure you see a clinician, and we're going to make sure you leave here safely. We're going to give you the skills you need so that hopefully you don't have to present at urgent care or ECMC and you can manage your illness on your own, or with support upstairs from the clinic.”

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