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While the Corner could refer clients, numerous barriers might prevent them from actually receiving psychiatric care—long waitlists, eligibility requirements, costs, transportation concerns—not to mention, being comfortable enough to seek care.
One-stop care. What is it? A place that meets your needs holistically—from physical health to mental health, from wellness to treatment, from education to support.
For some, it might sound like a lofty ideal. However, at a colorful storefront on North Huron Street in the heart of Ypsilanti, it’s already happening.
Versell Smith Jr. is the executive director of the Corner Health Center—a community safety net health clinic that serves adolescents and young adults, aged 12 to 25, and their children, regardless of their health insurance status or ability to pay.
The Corner operates under a holistic health model—offering a variety of services and supports for clients to achieve and sustain health. This includes physical and mental health care, educational opportunities—such as nutrition and healthy cooking classes, parenting groups, programs about mental health topics—and providing basic necessities, like food, clothing, and hygiene products.
A growing community need for youth psychiatry services
Historically, the Corner provided psychiatry on site; however, in recent years, clients were referred elsewhere. Nevertheless, the center was seeing an increased number of clients in need of psychiatry services—a need that grew even larger after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our clients have many diverse needs,” notes Smith. “There’s depression, anxiety, and trauma—much of it related to and exacerbated by COVID-19. Other youth have active suicide ideation, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder, substance use disorder—and other conditions that require therapy and medication.”
While the Corner could refer clients, numerous barriers might prevent them from actually receiving psychiatric care—long waitlists, eligibility requirements, costs, transportation concerns—not to mention, being comfortable enough to seek care outside of their established provider. As Smith explains, the Corner’s young clients “are attracted to us because we can deliver a host of services under one roof.”
Now, through a millage-funded partnership, the Corner offers psychiatric services in-house, two days a week, via two Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH) affiliated providers.
“Having them gives our primary care providers the ability to refer clients with a really warm hand-off to psychiatry,” says Smith, which increases the likelihood of them receiving needed care.
Expanded psychiatry time is addressing youth trauma
Dr. Thomas Atkins is a psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry. After the millage passed, he became designated as a WCCMH CARES child psychiatrist—providing community time outside of the organization’s traditional walls.
He notes that the millage is filling an important gap by providing more much-needed psychiatry time to local youth who have experienced—or are still experiencing—tough situations.
“A large proportion of people that I see are affected by trauma,” says Atkins.
“There’s a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our community—complex PTSD. Some people who have grown up under-parented or physically or sexually assaulted. They have limited resources and often have unstable friendships or family relationships. I wish people could witness the resilience of my clients—they inspire me.”
Atkins says that these cases immensely benefit from the longer appointment times that millage funding provides for him to see clients—something that wouldn’t exist in a private enterprise or operation that generates income only through billing.
“In these longer appointments, I really get to bear witness to their stories—providing empathetic listening, letting them talk,” he explains. “These can be stories that you can’t tell your average person. I can validate their experiences. And that’s so powerful.”
Providers are helping youth who identify as LGBTQ+
Making these connections can be even more difficult for youth who have a different gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. However, the Corner has established itself as an important, trusted community resource for LGBTQ+ care—especially for transgender health care services.
“There are many days where the majority of my patients are transgender,” says Atkins. “Many times, they've been othered or feel like outsiders. They can also feel uncomfortable going to bigger institutions—there’s often more barriers.”
“The Corner has such a great word of mouth and reputation that engenders trust,” Atkins continues. “When people come to see me, I can tell that they feel welcomed, because they’ve already met the nurse practitioner, the front office staff, and others.”
Another new provider at the Corner is Kelly Hammill, a nurse practitioner specializing in psychiatry. “As as a professional who personally identifies as queer, it’s an honor to further strengthen LGBTQ+ representation among Corner staff, so that we can continue providing welcoming and affirming care.”
Hammill began providing time at the Corner this past April—and sees her work there as following her passion for delivering early intervention and support to youth in need.“I’ve always been committed to working with children and young adults,” says Hammill. “I love their bravado. It’s so cool to witness the changes that are happening in their lives and to support them as they transition to young adulthood.
Matching youth to where their needs are best met
A key goal is getting youth connected to the place where they’ll benefit most—whether that’s with the Corner or with WCCMH.
“Because I work with both organizations,” explains Hammill, “I can coordinate care between WCCMH and the Corner and facilitate a warm handoff. I can also provide guidance regarding the level of care because I’m familiar with the array of services each institution provides.”
“WCCMH can provide home and community based services including outreach to the schools and other youth serving organizations,” Hammill continues. “The Corner has an integrative health care model in which they offer primary care and behavioral health services, as well as youth engagement activities.”
The Corner sees many youth for primary care services and it is then that many mental health needs are identified. That is where having psychiatry available in the same space enhances continuity of care.
“I think the Corner really excels at helping transition-age youth—meaning young adults between the ages of 18 to 25,” says Hammill. “They’ve developed a really good support system to facilitate from youth to young adulthood—one that promotes independence. They have youth education groups, nutrition groups, and other social groups.”
An integrated, collaborative, dedicated team
The expanded psychiatry presence has already reduced waitlists, getting Corner clients connected to care faster. Smith says that before the partnership, patients were typically scheduled three to four months out. Now, this has been reduced to three to four weeks.
Smith describes the new providers as an essential part of the Corner team—attending various workgroup meetings and becoming fully integrated with the other staff.
“We don’t view them as consultants,” says Smith. “We view them as part of our practice.”
Hammill and the clinic team have identified new opportunities for expanding services based on the uptick in COVID-related mental health issues as well as other trends and new treatment modalities.
Atkins notes that this regular interaction with other providers helps the organization with caseloads, because “they feel more comfortable going deeper into their client’s diagnoses and issues. And that really allows me to expand my impact. It allows for more flexible models of care.”
Hammill also describes a collaborative environment where she can step outside of her office to easily talk with another provider or therapist. “Everyone is willing to share expertise,” she notes. “I’m so inspired by the folks that work at Corner. The energy and creativity is boundless.”
Investing in our community’s future
While the Corner continues to navigate pandemic-related challenges, Smith says he’s thankful to have the support of WCCMH and millage funding to enhance their collaborative model and meet the needs of their clients.
“The millage dollars are what help us provide these important behavioral health resources,” affirms Smith. “We’re so grateful to have this infusion of support.”
“These kids represent the future of our community,” says Hammill. “It’s so exciting to be part of an organization whose overarching mission is to do things holistically—to allow these kids to become who they can be.”