Friday, June 14, 2024

The emergency room entrance at CHA Cambridge Hospital. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The new Community Behavioral Health Center run by Cambridge Health Alliance performed 1,161 evaluations at its urgent care center and handled 1,048 phone calls during its first three months of operation, Alliance spokesperson David Cecere said this week. The center is one of 25 established at the beginning of January under a program authorized by the Gov. Charlie Baker administration to make it easier to get mental health services by offering one “front door” to get help.

A mobile crisis team attached to the center also saw patients in the community in response to 427 mental health crisis calls, Cecere said.

The mental health urgent care site at Cambridge Hospital is one of the more innovative programs of the new center. It takes walk-in patients from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and can refer them to further care. The phone call service operates 24 hours a day at (833) 222-2030. Cecere said it has handled calls from people seeking information or looking for an outpatient therapist as well as people in crisis.

Besides offering residents a smoother path to services, the center was intended to reduce demand in hospital’s emergency room. Statewide, psychiatric patients have waited in emergency departments for days and even weeks for an inpatient bed.

“There is not a significant drop in ED utilization at this point, but we are seeing an increase in the number of individuals in crisis utilizing the urgent care center – over time, we expect that the familiarity and availability of urgent care will reduce the reliance on the ED,” Cecere said. The statistics so far show 1,161 urgent care evaluations in the first three months, averaging out to about 13 calls a day.

The mobile crisis team is also intended to divert patients in crisis away from the emergency room. At least two calls to the CHA unit helped Cambridge police defuse the situation when mentally distressed men barricaded themselves in their apartments, according to police.

The police department reported Feb. 25 that officers called the Behavioral Health Center and paramedics when a man demanded money from his health care worker, threatened her with a weapon and barricaded himself in his apartment.

Officers and the paramedics arrived first and police negotiators persuaded the man to leave the apartment; he was committed involuntarily to “a local hospital,” police said.

In another barricade situation in January, a clinician from the new center helped persuade a distressed man to be hospitalized voluntarily after threatening to harm his parents and barricading himself, police said.