In an unassuming brick building just down the street from the Washtenaw County Health Department in Ypsilanti a new community resource is in the final stages of development. It’s an observation and assessment center for individuals in crisis--one that community advocates have been wanting for years--and it will open for business at 750 Towner in the next few weeks.
Melisa Tasker, program administrator, is overseeing the last few renovations on behalf of Washtenaw County Community Mental Health. Resources from the county’s Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage have been used to renovate the county-owned building and to hire and train staff, including a medical assistant and peer support specialists who will oversee services in the facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s a place where we can bring people to observe them for up to 23 hours so we can make a level of care decision--if they’re safe to return to the community or if they need more care,” says Tasker. “We can accommodate them here, in a less restrictive setting, instead of sending them home, to crisis residential services, or to the emergency department.”
“Emergency rooms focus on treating acute issues, then moving patients on as quickly as possible. It’s what they’re supposed to do and they do a great job at it,” says Lisa Gentz, millage program administrator. “But by bringing individuals here, we’re giving them supported time to sort through all the issues that may be underlying the crisis.”
Jackie Campbell, one of the peer support specialists who will work in the facility, is excited to come in at ground level and is looking forward to greeting her first client. “I’ll welcome them, see what immediate needs they have, get them comfortable, talk to them,” says Campbell. “Just engage them really, let them know they’re safe. Not by saying it, but in the action.”
“Are you hungry? Are you tired? Do you need a shower? Clean Clothes?” Gentz says these are the first orders of business.
“What we’ve been telling staff is that basic needs and a place to sleep is treatment,” says Tasker. “A lot of times when we see people in the ER, psychosocial stressors are the biggest factor in why they’re in the situation that they’re in. So we’re going to help them sort out all of those stressors in a less restrictive environment that can meet their basic needs and give them a place to regroup.”
Peers like Campbell are a key element.
“Many of the peers we’ve hired have provided direct care support--checking vitals and monitoring medication,” says Tasker. “But they also have lived experience.” Campbell, who worked as a peer support specialist with a supportive housing facility for years, says the benefit of peers is that they can relate.
“No one’s life is the same, but if there’s drugs, alcohol, mental health concerns, we’ve been there,” says Campbell. “We can also be an example of how it can be overcome. You can get help and, you know, be able to function in life. Function and thrive.”