Starting Monday individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis can seek help at the McLean County Triage Center in downtown Bloomington.
McLean County Behavioral Health Coordinating Council Supervisor Trisha Malott called the center, located on the first floor of 200 W. Front St., “one of the missing puzzle pieces to the crisis system within McLean County.”
Malott led a group of county officials and Bloomington and Normal fire and police chiefs on a tour of the facility Friday afternoon.
She explained PATH, the Mobile Crisis Team, hospital emergency departments and the Crisis Residential Unit at Chestnut Health Systems have all provided vital behavioral health services for years. But the Triage Center is the community’s first facility where individuals in a state of behavioral health crisis will be able to walk in and receive help 24 hours per day.
The Triage Center receives financial support from a public safety and mental health fund created by an areawide sales tax increase. It will be billing insurance in the future, including private payers, Medicaid, Managed Care plans, and Medicare. But Malott said it is also dedicated to providing services regardless of an individual’s ability to pay.
Malott said for now the center will operate according to the building’s business hours, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. But the ultimate goal is to provide 24/7 services year-round.
That’s because individuals can experience a behavioral health crisis at any time, not just when their doctor’s office is open.
“We know that a lot of individuals end up in the emergency department because there’s nowhere else to go perhaps at 2 a.m., or they don’t know what else to do,” Malott said. “And so emergency departments have kind of become the de facto option when somebody feels like they are in a state of behavioral health crisis.”
Malott said individuals experiencing a more acute mental health crisis, say someone who is actively suicidal, will be transported to the emergency department.
Malott said it’s also common for someone in a state of behavioral health crisis to end up in the criminal justice system, “when what they need is a compassionate ear to listen, or they need help with de-escalating in that moment, or linkage to resources in the community.”
Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath attended the tour Friday. He said getting individuals the help they need will mean fewer engagements with the police in the future, including arrests.
Donath said the BPD has been working to put together a resource guide to help officers refer residents to the appropriate community agency.
“We’ll be encouraging (officers) to recognize on a call that they’re on that there are needs for mental health services, or food or shelter or things of that nature, and take a few moments to help guide (residents) toward the resources that we have locally, because we have a ton of resources,” he said. “It’s a matter of connecting the people with the resources and knowing what those resources are.”
Donath said the guides will be distributed to BPD officers within the next two weeks.
Malott said there’s no goal for how many individuals the center will serve in its first year, but there are other ways staff will measure the center’s success.
“We’re hopeful that if we start to improve lives and provide a more economic option for individuals and the community as a whole, as well as possibly reducing recidivism rates or from entering the justice system in the altogether, or getting help in a shorter amount of time rather than waiting for hours in an emergency room, then we’ve also met our goals.”
How It Works
Malott said individuals will access the Triage Center one of two ways: as a walk-in, or escorted by an officer following an interaction with police.
Just inside the building’s south entrance, individuals must press a button to request admission to the Triage Center. Staff use a video and intercom system to communicate with the individual, as well as assess any potential risk, before buzzing them in.
Malott said the center uses a “soft security presence”—un-uniformed, welcoming staff members—to screen all individuals with a wand and, if needed, a pat-down. Any bags or personal items will be locked away during the individual’s visit, but cellphones are permitted.
At the reception window, individuals are greeted by a “peer”: someone with a prior mental health diagnosis or substance use issue who’s now in recovery, Malott explained. After filling out a few pieces of paperwork, individuals meet with a triage center specialist for an assessment.
That means “listening to the individual about what’s been going on, what brought them in,” Malott said. “Some suicide risk assessment, and there is a particular screening tool that we’ll be using to determine that, which is looking at recent time but also in a more historical time. So we’re doing a little bit of history-gathering with them. We’re assessing for mood and affect, and also for what their supports and resources are, as well as safety planning with them.”
Staff then provide information on or make referrals to community resources to help meet the individual’s specific needs, be it counseling, housing, food access and more. They may also provide a behavioral health intervention or treatment technique to help individuals de-escalate the crisis and feel better, Malott said.
Following the assessment, staff guide the individual into a commons area, with a table and chairs and coffee maker on one side, and sofa, coffee table and bookshelves on the other.
Malott explained this “living room model” aims to provide individuals a welcoming space to calm down and talk with a peer for up to 24 hours. If someone isn’t ready to leave by the time that 24 hours is up, they may be transferred to the Crisis Residential Unit at Chestnut Health Systems, where they can stay for up to 30 days.
The Triage Center is available for adults only, Malott said.