Maricopa County mental health crisis care services grow

Maricopa County’s psychiatric crisis facilities have more than doubled in the past year as care providers hope to take pressure off of emergency rooms and give police more options for people who need help, not jail time.

Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care oversees the entire crisis system for the county, and has contracted with Community Bridges, ConnectionsAZ and Recovery Innovations to expand services.

At ConnectionsAZ’s open house and expansion of the newly renovated Urgent Psychiatric Center last week, Dr. Chris Carson, CEO of Connections AZ, said the mental health system in Arizona has come a long way.

“I mean, I look at what we do at the Urgent Psychiatric Center now, I look at what we are going to do in this building and it’s still not good enough, it’s really not,” he said. “But it is so much better.”

In addition, Community Bridges opened a new psychiatric emergency center in Mesa, and Recovery Innovations has added new respite beds at the crisis center in Peoria. Mercy Maricopa has also added a 24/7 hotline, crisis mobile teams, peer evaluations and walk-in lobbies with no denial of help.

“With the expansion here at Connections AZ., we went from 32 operating beds to 50,” said Dr. Robert Williamson, owner of ConnectionsAZ. “And then with Community Bridges out in the East Valley they brought on a new 40 crisis beds that had never existed before, and Recovery Innovations expanded from basically operating 16 to 25. So you could say in a really short time, less than a year, we went from less than 50 crisis beds available in the community to about 150.”

Law enforcement officers who attended the open house said the changes were much needed.

“There is a major correlation to mental health and crime. I think that a lot of times when we are attacking things from a criminal side, going at it from a mental health angle would be more effective,” said Det. Ben Morris of the Phoenix Police Department.

ConnectionsAZ said it strives to make it easier for police to drop off people who are in crisis.

“A lot of our calls we get to 9-1-1 disturbance calls are mental health related. So it is going to be a lot easier for us to bring someone down here, get them in intake, and get back on the streets,” said Morris.

Mercy Maricopa CEO Eddy D. Broadway wants to work on tackling mental health from a society’s perspective, too.

“We need to work really extra hard in getting back out and getting ahead in this stigma,” Broadway said.

Carson said there is a lot to be done to improve the mental health system,

“We still have a long ways to go. This building [Urgent Psychiatric Center] is nothing more than a blank slate, it’s an unfinished building today and the crisis system is unfinished,” he said. “This is a blank slate which we need to experiment, continue to criticize, continue to think of what we can do better, how can we treat people better.”

The ConnectionsAZ Urgent Psychiatric Care Center is set to open in December.