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SSM Urgent Care Offers Mental Health Care Help On Demand In North St. Louis County

Two Australians created Mental Health First Aid  in 2001. Since then, millions of people have taken classes in how to help someone in a mental health crisis.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
SSM Health Behavioral Health Urgent Care opened this week in Bridgeton and will serve patients will acute mental health emergencies.

SSM Health has opened an urgent care center focused on treating people with mental health problems.

The clinic inside SSM Health DePaul Hospital in Bridgeton, which opened this week, will treat acute mental health and addiction issues and refer patients to local therapists and psychiatrists for an appointment within days.

“Patients may not have resources, may not necessarily know where to go, may not be able to get in,” said Michelle Schafer, SSM Health vice president for behavioral health. “It really is at a level where we were coming together as a group, and thinking ‘How can we do this better?’”

SSM invested more than $2 million in the new clinic. Instead of competing with other health care systems, local providers are working together to pool resources and link patients to long-term treatment.

The clinic will address suicidal crises, medication emergencies and other immediate issues, Schafer said.

But many people will need follow-up help, she said. Health workers at the center will meet with patients to make therapy or doctor’s appointments at several mental health clinics affiliated with SSM.

Clinic personnel also will refer patients to social services agencies that can help with housing, employment and other issues.

“We understand one urgent care won’t meet the needs of the entire community,” Schafer said. “So the model we’ve designed is one we are sharing, it is one that everybody is engaged in."

Urgent care centers have proliferated in St. Louis in recent years. But only a handful in the country are focused on treating behavioral health crises, said Wendy Orson, CEO of the Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis, which helped plan the treatment hub.

Most of the urgent care sites in St. Louis “are not specializing in that,” Orson said. “You would not get access to a psychiatrist, you would not get access to someone who is trained to address these complex needs and prescribe … and you would not find the direct collaboration and connection back to behavioral health services. That’s where the innovation in this falls.”

The need for mental health urgent care is apparent when one looks at the number of people relying on emergency rooms to treat behavioral health issues, Orson said.

A 2019 report from the St. Louis and St. Louis County health departments found the number of patients seeking emergency mental health care in emergency rooms increased more than 40% between 2010 and 2016.

“Instead of going into the ED, where that type of care is really not conducive to a person in a behavioral health crisis, they can be seen at this urgent care,” Orson said.

The SSM clinic follows the opening earlier this month of Sana Health, another urgent care center focused on treating people with addiction issues.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.