Mental health barriers in hospitals lead to standalone urgent care clinics

County health officials in California opened a mental health urgent care center in the South Los Angeles area this week, aiming to treat people in immediate crisis while connecting them with ongoing care, Kaiser Health News reported in a blog post.

Patients at the Martin Luther King Jr. Mental Health Urgent Care Center will undergo a psychiatric evaluation, counseling and medication, then get a referral to long-term treatment, although the clinic can't accept people who are incoherent, extremely aggressive or need emergency medical attention, according to KHN.

The clinic, which can accommodate 16 adults and six young people at a time, opened in response to the increase in patients with mental illnesses visiting hospital emergency departments with nowhere else to go, according to the post. The clinic is a more effective place to treat patients with mental illnesses, who could cause more disruptions in a hospital setting, experts told KHN. It also is a medical clinic, which experts hope will serve as patients' medical home-base.

As more patients gain coverage and access to mental healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, mental health agencies and hospitals are inundated with new Medicaid patients seeking treatment. Although increased access is a positive, it strains resources at clinics like Seven Counties Services in Louisville, Kentucky, which saw an 40 percent increase in calls to the agency's access lines for new clients, Chief Operating Officer Kelley Gannon told the New York Times.

Seven Counties therapist Erin Riedel saw her caseload jump from 100 to 263 between 2013 and July of this year. To cope, the organization will hire more therapists and offer group therapy, for which there is no wait, according to the article.

But not all private providers want to take on the challenges of providing care to Medicaid patients. Not only are they reimbursed less, some practices must wait for approval from managed care companies who provide benefits to Medicaid recipients, according to the article.

Meanwhile, a new collaborative in New Jersey aims to close the loop for high-risk patients in the state by integrating physical, behavioral, and addiction treatments and services, FiercePracticeManagement previously reported. Not only will the collaborative offer models that other organizations can emulate throughout New Jersey, it will also provide lessons for private insurers outside of the Medicaid program.

To learn more:
- here's the KHN blog post
- read the Times article