AGH Announces New Behavioral Health Crisis Center

AGH Announces New Behavioral Health Crisis Center
Atlantic General Hospital and community partners celebrate the opening of the new Crisis Center with a ceremonial ribbon cutting Wednesday. Photo by Bethany Hooper

BERLIN – A new behavioral health crisis center at Atlantic General Hospital is expected to better serve community members with acute mental health illness and substance use disorders.

On Wednesday, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) and its partnering agencies announced the opening of Worcester County’s first walk-in Behavioral Health Crisis Center.

Beginning Jan. 31, the center will offer care to adults and pediatric patients ages five and older who are in urgent need of behavioral health intervention.

“The intention of this regional collaboration is to increase access to crisis intervention and behavioral health services sooner while diverting individuals in crisis to a more effective, lower and less costly level of care,” said Greg Shockley, chair of the AGH Board of Trustees.

Officials say the center is part of a larger regional effort to reduce barriers to behavioral health care.

Utilizing an $11 million grant through the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission (HSCRC), Atlantic General, TidalHealth Peninsula Regional and more than a dozen community agencies have partnered together to form the Tri-County Behavioral Health Engagement (TRIBE).

“TRIBE is one of three partnerships between hospitals and community groups in the state that was awarded funding to invest in behavioral health crisis services,” said Megan Renfrew, associate director of external affairs for HSCRC. “The opening of this crisis center is a major milestone in that effort. The announcement today is a clear success story demonstrating how coalitions like TRIBE are key to building and delivering coordinated, high quality care for patients.”

Kim Justice and Dr. Sally Dowling, co-interim president and CEO of AGH, noted the partnership addresses top barriers to behavioral health care: cost, provider access and lack of insurance.

“We have medically underserved areas, where many face difficulties accessing providers due to technology and transportation,” Justice said. “Creating a new approach for coordination of treatment and support services, such as the Behavioral Health Crisis Center, will provide another access point to address the high demand for addictions, mental health and care coordination services in our area.”

As part of the partnership, a primary site, which will offer 23-hour crisis stabilization, will open near TidalHealth Peninsula Regional later this year. Its satellite crisis center, located within AGH’s Atlantic Health Center, will accept referrals and walk-ins, with no appointment needed.

Tina Simmons, director of population health at AGH, noted that patients will receive an initial intake assessment with access to behavioral counseling, psychiatric care and medication management – both in person and through telehealth. Staff will also provide patients with connections to partnering agencies, as well as insurance and financial counseling.

“Atlantic General and TidalHealth are working alongside all of the community partners … to increase access to behavioral health services for patients in crisis and really work to decrease duplication of efforts and bridge the gaps in care,” she said. “This will help us reduce ER utilization, readmissions and hospital admissions related to behavioral health and substance use diagnoses.”

Dr. Bryce Blanton, the crisis center’s onsite medical director, agreed.

“I think we are all aware of the gaps in care in our area, and it’s only gotten worse since we’ve seen the pandemic go on and on,” he said. “With a mental health crisis, as many people know, when you need to be seen, you need to be seen today or two weeks ago. With this clinic, I believe we will be able to help fill that gap with people being seen the exact same day.”

Officials say the center will be open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with plans to expand hours as the program matures.

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About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.