CT’s Kids in Crisis: Walk-in Urgent Crisis Centers

This news coverage by Sam Smink appeared on WFSB – Channel 3 Eyewitness News on May 9, 2023.

The Channel 3 I-Team continues to examine the crisis surrounding youth mental health here in Connecticut.

Here are some current programs in the works.

URGENT CRISIS CENTERS:

Amy Samela gave the I-Team a tour of what will be 1 of 4 urgent crisis centers coming to the state. These are centers created for kids and teens experiencing a mental health crisis, that don’t need to be in the emergency room.

“Our job at the UCC is to see children anywhere from zero up until 21 who literally can walk into our building and get needs met, regardless of a family’s ability to pay or insurance,” says Samelna, Vice President of Residential Programs at The Village for Families and Children.

One center will be at the Village for Families and Children Campus on Albany Avenue in Hartford.

The Village for Families and Children is a non-profit, with 40 programs and services to help children, adults and families.

The idea is that you won’t leave with just a referral, you’ll leave with a plan and actual services.

”You have psychiatrists, you have behavioral health nurses, you have licensed clinicians, you have family support systems that will all wrap around these families and these kids,” says Samelna.

Samela says the center should be ready to go by the beginning of July.

At the same time, the Village is also opening what’s called a subacute stabilization program.

”Continued program where kids can stay there upwards of one day to 14 days. Children ranging from age 5 to 21,” says Samelna. “It is a voluntary program where that age range would come here, have an interdisciplinary continued assessment and stabilization and treatment.”

Over at CT Children’s Hospital, they’re currently building a 12 bed med psych inpatient unit set to tentatively open in January 2024.

The unit, separate from their ER, will care for children with both medical and psychiatric concerns, says Doctor Melissa Santos, division head of pediatric psychology.

“Kids with diabetes that are having problems dealing with their insulin regimen because of their depression, anxiety. Perhaps they’re using their treatments to self injure in some other way. Kids that have other chronic health conditions that we just know that regular inpatient psychiatric facilities can’t appropriately treat,” says Doctor Santos.

President and CEO Jim Shmerling says having this unit will allow them to reduce the time a child spends in the hospital.

”Nowhere in the state is there a place for the children to be seen all in one place. The inpatient psychiatric beds across the state, will only take psychiatric issues, they won’t take children with medical problems so they have to be completely stable until they take the patient. Now we can stabilize that patient and start the mental health intervention much sooner, while they’re in that unit. It will reduce the length of stay by two or three weeks,” says Shmerling.

Shmerling, Doctor Santos and Samela say the work has only just begun.

”We have to be able to listen to our kids and listen to the stressors they are going through; they are going through stress and it’s real. And it has detrimental consequences if we don’t pay attention to them,” says Salmena.

WHERE ARE THE OTHER URGENT CRISIS CENTERS?

Yale New Haven is currently operational as their program is an enhancement of their current emergency department.

Wellmore in Waterbury starts their Urgent Crisis Center later this month.

Child and Family of Southeast Connecticut in New London expects to open their urgent crisis center next month.

STATE FUNDING:

Last May, the state legislature set aside $300 million for children’s behavioral health services.

According to state records, at least $25 million has been set aside for the urgent crisis centers/sub-acute crisis stabilization programs. Right now, the funds are coming from the American Rescue Plan, available through the end of the year, which puts the future of the programs in question.

Lawmakers would have to fund the continuation in this budget cycle, they are currently working on that.

CT Children’s new unit is expected to cost 13 million dollars, which was approved last year by the legislature.

The Hospital has to spend the money first and submit for reimbursement from the state.

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