‘Living room model’ sees success with crisis mental health care

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Male Roberts was going through a rough time that included being homeless for a year before he found peers at The Renewal Center on Elm Street in Buffalo, whom he credits for saving his life.

“You come in this room, you’re at peace,” Roberts said. “For me, once I come in here, the outside world, I block it out because this is where my peace is at.”

The Renewal Center is a community crisis center that uses a “living room model” as an alternative to hospitalization at a facility like CPEP in ECMC.

A month ago, News 4 Investigates reported on concerns raised by former patients of CPEP, such as long wait times to learn if they would be discharged, violence amongst patients, filthy conditions, and a lack of comfort and safety.

Mental health advocates said having more alternatives to CPEP for those in crises like The Renewal Center and Bestself Behavioral Health’s crisis stabilization center opening on Niagara Street by the end of the year, are important developments.

Most of all, facilities like them could help reduce the patient surging at ECMC’s CPEP, which is among the busiest in the state, with an average of 10,000 visitors per year.

“I think for the most part, if people are connected and in the system, our job – my job at Horizon – is to keep people out of the emergency room,” said Anne Constantino, president and CEO of Horizon Corporations, who announced she would retire this year after 37 years. “It’s the last thing that we want.”

Kevin Smith, the director of Mental Health Peer Connection, which helps run The Renewal Center, said the “living-room model” seeks to avoid the frustrations that patients have expressed about hospital-based programs, like CPEP at ECMC, by making them feel at home.

Smith said studies have shown that those who sought help at facilities offering the “living loom model” reported better outcomes for patients than those who visited emergency rooms for care.

“The environment itself, it’s comfortable, it’s personable, you’re going to get one-on-one,” Smith said. “You don’t have to worry about the hustle and bustle, the bright lights, people in the waiting room. People are going to listen to you and they’re going to let you know what you’re going through and what you’re dealing with is important to them.”

The center provides access to nurses, bridges the gap to other medical and non-medical services, and peer support for those 18 or older in the throes of a mental health crisis.

For Roberts, it was a simpler request: “At the darkest hours, most of us, all we want is somebody to talk to.  We don’t want to be boxed in a room or given an injection to calm us down. That’s not what it’s about.”

Male Roberts said he likely would be dead if he had not discovered The Renewal Center in Buffalo.

In addition, the center is staffed with peer advocates who have pushed through their own mental health crises and can relate to the pain.

Open since 2018 from 3 to 11 p.m. every day, The Renewal Center is preparing a move to a larger building at 111 Maple St., at the foot of the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus in the Fruit Belt neighborhood.

Another option that should come online in Buffalo by the end of the year is the intense crisis stabilization center that BestSelf Behavioral Health plans to open on Niagara Street.

Kevin Beckham, vice president of health home programs and crisis intervention for BestSelf Behavioral Health, said the stabilization center will provide quality mental health and substance abuse services for residents of Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

Once open, the stabilization center will be open 24/7 and provide services to both adults and children.

Beckham said the stabilization center hopes to partner with other community agencies in the area, but also law enforcement, and ECMC, to improve patient care and services.

“So, this is not in place or trying to mimic Erie County Medical Center, the CPEP unit,” Beckham said. “We want to provide the needed support services in the community so that individuals who don’t need to go to ECMC or to CPEP can come to the crisis stabilization center and get the care that they need at the appropriate level that they need.”

Another difference is that patients who visit The Renewal Center or the soon-to-be-open crisis stabilization center can come and go as they wish. Whereas, patients at CPEP cannot leave until they are assessed by a doctor to determine if they can be discharged or they must be admitted because they present a substantial threat of harm to themselves or others.

Kevin Smith, the director of Mental Health Peer Connection.

“We’ll help you in the moment,” Smith said. “You can leave whenever you want. We don’t force you do to do anything.”

Brittany Derry, the director of crisis center and clubhouse programs for BestSelf Behavioral Health, said other agencies will be able to refer patients to the crisis stabilization center if they determine that the patients don’t meet their guidelines to qualify for the program or services.

In addition, Derry said they will follow-up with all patients to ensure they have been connected to agencies that fit their needs.

“They can stay up to 23 hours and 59 minutes here at the center, and then we’ll refer them to an appropriate level of care,” Derry said. “Maybe that is the hospital. But we will help them make that determination. But if it’s an outpatient, we will help them link appropriately with the outpatient clinic.”

Mark O’Brien, Erie County’s commissioner of mental health, said both facilities are signs that mental health services are being enhanced at the local level.

“When you look at crisis response, you have to look at three things: You have to look at who do I call? Who do I get to come? Or where do I go? And so, you don’t want to be ‘where do I go to?’ be the first response. You want it to be ‘who do I call?’ How can I access community-based services?”

Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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