An inside look at Columbia's soon-to-open Burrell Behavioral Health 24/7 rapid access crisis unit

·8 min read
Marissa VanDover, director of Burrell Behavioral Crisis Center, explains the services that Burrell’s rapid access unit will handle for individuals who are having a mental health crisis.
Marissa VanDover, director of Burrell Behavioral Crisis Center, explains the services that Burrell’s rapid access unit will handle for individuals who are having a mental health crisis.

A new mental health resource in Columbia is nearly ready to open.

Burrell Behavioral Health is in the final stages of preparation before it opens its 24/7 rapid access unit in the lower level of its Stephens Lake office at 1805 E. Walnut St.

While the aim is to open as soon as possible, the launch likely will be in the fall, said Marissa VanDover, director of the Burrell Behavioral Crisis Center.

"We still are in the midst of hiring nurses. That is our biggest kind of hold-up," VanDover said this week. "As soon as we are fully staffed, we are ready to open our doors. We are definitely hopeful about (opening this autumn)."

Previously: Burrell to house temporary mental health crisis center at Stephens Lake office location

Brandon Bennett, care coordinator, poses as a client at Burrell’s rapid access unit at 1805 E. Walnut St. on Thursday during a staff training exercise with Jessica Trice, right, a Burrell behavioral specialist, and Samantha Heckel, behavioral technician.
Brandon Bennett, care coordinator, poses as a client at Burrell’s rapid access unit at 1805 E. Walnut St. on Thursday during a staff training exercise with Jessica Trice, right, a Burrell behavioral specialist, and Samantha Heckel, behavioral technician.

Burrell's central Missouri region generally services those from 10 counties: Boone, Carroll, Chariton, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau, Morgan, Pettis, Randolph and Saline.

Whether arriving by referral or walk-in during a mental or behavioral health crisis, clients will first enter a reception area. This process will take about 10 minutes to get basic information. Clients then receive a medical evaluation before meeting with mental health clinicians either in an individual or group setting.

How to contact Burrell:

In an emergency: call 1-800-395-2132 or 988 any time of day.

Non-emergencies: call 573-777-8300 or visit burrellcenter.com/locations

Burrell's walk-in Connection Center is open 8 a.m. to 5p.m., Monday through Friday at 3401 Berrywood Drive in Columbia.

Access to the rapid access unit is 100% voluntary by the individual in crisis. While clients will be able to stay up to 23 hours, the process of connecting them with services and developing a treatment plan likely will take shorter than that, VanDover said.

“The rapid access unit is 100% voluntary and open to all adults in the community," she said. "People walking in our doors have a lot of choice in how and when they seek services and we have the opportunity to meet people where they are at and to provide the best care possible.”

VanDover wants to break the myth that a person is committed to a mental health institution when they use the rapid access unit, wrote Nathan Fleischman, Burrell director of public relations, in a follow-up email.

"Our goal is to help break the crisis cycle by getting someone in crisis stabilized, and if necessary, referred to the best therapy or treatment for their situation," he wrote.

More: Community partnerships to open 24/7 crisis center could ease burden on hospitals, law enforcement, officials say

Everyone who walks in the door of the rapid access unit "will have an individualized assessment and care plan developed," VanDover said.

"We know people are in crisis in the community and we know this place is needed," she added. "I am extremely excited to open our doors to the community and to have the feedback to know what is working well and to really be a resource for Columbia."

Samantha Heckel, behavioral technician, admits Brandon Bennett, care coordinator, at Burrell’s rapid access unit at 1805 E. Walnut St. during a staff training exercise.
Samantha Heckel, behavioral technician, admits Brandon Bennett, care coordinator, at Burrell’s rapid access unit at 1805 E. Walnut St. during a staff training exercise.

Filling a need

VanDover is new to Burrell, but she is not new to crisis services. While working in Denver, she opened two large facilities — including one that functioned similar to Columbia's rapid access unit, she said.

VanDover has worked with Burrell for about a month.

Before the facility opens, Burrell is currently conducting staff training.

"I have a lot of ideas and scenarios from (Denver) that we will recreate here," VanDover said, adding this will also give time to find areas for improvement even before opening.

More: Clarity Healthcare partnership provides primary care to Burrell behavioral health patients

Burrell still aims to eventually construct a full-service crisis center. In the meantime, the rapid access unit is filling a need in Burrell's ability to provide crisis care 24/7. The rapid access unit fills out the umbrella of services provided by Burrell, Fleischman said.

VanDover is in charge of Behavioral Crisis Center operations, including the rapid access unit, while Carisa Kessler is director of Burrell Crisis Services, which is the community outreach arm.

Kessler oversees programs such as 988, the mental health emergency hotline that connects directly with Burrell's already established crisis line of 1-800-395-2132; emergency room enhancement; and community behavioral health liaisons.

Emergency room enhancement serves individuals who may use the ER inappropriately.

"They may just need primary care, but are using the ER instead. We have staff that respond to that," Kessler said, adding there also is staff embedded at the University of Missouri Psychiatric Center.

More: The Oak Center, Columbia's counseling service focused on helping suicidal clients, celebrates first year

Law enforcement and the court system serve as community behavioral health liaisons. Those entities can refer mental health concerns to the rapid access unit instead of an emergency room or a jail cell.

"I can tell you (the rapid access unit is) a much-needed resource for our community and I think having it here now will help strengthen the availability to offer 24/7 services," Kessler said.

Jessica Trice, a Burrell behavioral specialist, gives clean clothing to Brandon Bennett, care coordinator, during a client intake training exercise on Thursday at the Burrell rapid access unit at 1805 E. Walnut St.
Jessica Trice, a Burrell behavioral specialist, gives clean clothing to Brandon Bennett, care coordinator, during a client intake training exercise on Thursday at the Burrell rapid access unit at 1805 E. Walnut St.

A bridge in care

VanDover expects the rapid access unit will see those in the community from all walks of life.

"Crisis isn't limited or broken down based on your income or your resources," she said. "The important message to the community is whether you have resources or not, whether you have wealth and insurance, crisis doesn’t discriminate.

"It happens to everybody. We have a team ready to help everyone who walks in the door."

The rapid access unit also will work as a bridge for care as people get set up with providers, which often can have a four- to six-week waitlist, VanDover said.

"If someone is seen here in crisis and has an appointment but it’s not for a few weeks, we’ll see them here until they are able to be seen (elsewhere)," she said. "They can come in here for weekly sessions or whatever is needed based on their care plan."

More: Catholic Charities nears launch of behavioral health program serving mid-Missouri

The facility is equipped with a ligature-free shower area. Towel storage is made to fall if pulled on, and there is no way to tie a towel to the shower heads or tap.

"Sometimes people come in crisis after witnessing or being part of a car crash," VanDover said, as an example. "People could come in with blood on them and need to change clothes or shower."

"Sometimes people think of showers and our unhoused community, which is true, but there are a lot of additional reasons a person might need to take a shower."

There is a heat-treat room to kill any bugs that may be in a person's clothes. The facility also has changes of clothes and a clothing washer and dryer.

The community room features six reclining chairs, which can be used as part of treatment, both for mental health and medical purposes. Because of the time frames in which people receive care, VanDover has no plans of turning anyone away who comes to the rapid access unit once it is open.

Burrell Behavioral Health at 1805 E. Walnut St. is nearly ready to open its doors for a 24/7 rapid access unit in the lower level of its Stephens Lake office’s south side. The office will provide immediate help for individuals having a mental health crisis.
Burrell Behavioral Health at 1805 E. Walnut St. is nearly ready to open its doors for a 24/7 rapid access unit in the lower level of its Stephens Lake office’s south side. The office will provide immediate help for individuals having a mental health crisis.

An interim solution

While the rapid access unit is nearing an open date, it remains an interim solution to Columbia opening a crisis center similar to one operated by Burrell in Springfield.

"As an organization well-versed in behavioral crisis care, Burrell knows more space is needed than our interim Stephens Lake rapid access unit solution allows," Fleischman wrote. "We need community support (American Rescue Plan Act allocations being one possible avenue) to help fund space for the services the mid-Missouri community needs."

The rapid access unit does not have the funding capacity or building space to offer acute crisis stabilization and social setting detox, Fleischman added. A larger behavioral crisis center also would allow for voluntary client treatment of longer than 23 hours, which is the limitation of the Stephens Lake rapid access unit.

More: Treatment courts 'instill hope that change is possible,' says Missouri association leader

Burrell has requested $3.5 million for a full-service behavioral crisis center from the roughly $25 million pot the City of Columbia is receiving in ARPA funds. Behavioral and mental health services represented one of the areas the Columbia City Council identified in October with how it would allocate the first half of ARPA funds.

"A behavioral crisis center, providing around-the-clock staffing by credentialed medical experts, requires a lot of resources and is a break-even proposition for Burrell at best even with community support," Fleischman wrote. "ARPA support would make a sustainable behavioral crisis center solution possible."

Even with the costs associated with ongoing community support, a crisis center like the one in Springfield still has brought savings to local hospitals and law enforcement. This includes reductions in ER visits and the ability of law enforcement to return to duties more quickly than waiting with a person in crisis at an ER.

"We can confidently point to a conservative estimate of $4.4 million in savings for Greene County," Fleischman wrote. "Burrell Behavioral Health believes it is fair to project millions in savings for the mid-Missouri community by providing a crisis center."

Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at cdunlap@columbiatribune.com or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Burrell plans fall opening of Columbia 24/7 rapid access crisis unit