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Psychiatric Crisis Services at Arizona’s Largest Mental Health Agency

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Psychiatric Crisis Services at Arizona’s Largest Mental Health Agency

Over the past two decades, Tucson’s psychiatric crisis services have undergone many transformations. Today, Arizona’s largest mental health agency and crisis response center offer a continuum of care throughout the city with an inpatient unit for those needing overnight stay. They also have 911 dispatch diversion program which sends a psychiatric professional to respond to calls involving people experiencing crisis or suicidal thoughts; co-responder models where peers and plainclothes detectives collaborate on homeless outreach, substance use response and followup with high-risk individuals living with mental illness.

Balfour noted that the crisis line, mobile crisis teams and CRC provide a seamless continuum of care for all levels of need. The crisis line offers call taker services as well as crisis assessment and referrals to community providers who are already focused on one clinical and financial goal: offering the least restrictive yet most economical care. Staffed by social workers, psychiatrists, counselors and nurse practitioners, the hotline welcomes calls from anyone experiencing mental health concerns regardless of insurance or patient ability to pay, according to Balfour.

Similar to Tucson’s 66-bed inpatient facility — Banner South — located right next to the crisis center, provides easy access for patients and staff alike. Law enforcement personnel as well as paramedics enter through a secure entrance around the side of the building that is not open to the public.

Balfour stressed the importance of speedy and convenient service for law enforcement agents. To this end, her staff strives to process new clients in 10 minutes or less – which is significantly faster than dropping someone off at Pima County jail, according to Balfour.

Arizona’s model is ahead of Washington’s, but it still needs work to improve its system. It must address a staffing shortage with an underpaid and burned-out workforce; additionally, there is no centralized crisis intervention system in place which leaves those uninsured or underinsured without knowing where they can turn for assistance.

To address this problem, the Crisis Response Center has collaborated with Connections Health Solutions – a psychiatric and behavioral health services provider – to expand their urgent care programs. These are now offered on the second floor of the Crisis Response Center, so people experiencing mental health or addiction crises but don’t require hospitalization can receive help.

Additionally, they plan to incorporate transitional services into their program so people can transition onto more traditional care when ready. These include outpatient primary care, community behavioral health clinics and support groups which connect clients to resources like housing or transportation.

The center recently upgraded their crisis line to a local number, enabling more people to contact them in case of an emergency even if they’re not covered by AHCCCS or another mental health insurance plan. This allows the crisis center to serve more people who require care and respond quickly when necessary, according to their director.

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