Rhode Islanders suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse, or who have family members, friends or co-workers living through a behavioral health crisis, now have a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week hotline and triage center to turn to.
Last Friday, an open house attended by well over 200 was held by state officials and health care providers to showcase Rhode Island’s newest behavioral health facility, BH Link. The center offers a “one-stop shop” that provides immediate, innovative crisis intervention services that will connect those seeking help to treatment and care.
BH Link, the Behavioral Health Link located at 975 Waterman Avenue in East Providence, is the first center of its kind in the state. According to information provided at the open house, the program is intended to serve individuals 18 years old and older and provides access to behavioral healthcare in a community-based setting. Designed to ensue stability, provide a seamless transfer to ongoing care, and reduce the use of hospital services that are costly and may not provide the appropriate level of care, BH Link hopes to deliver better, cost-effective behavioral healthcare to the state.
“We now have an established 24/7, 365 days a year triage and call center,” said Jim Ryczek, CEO of Horizon Healthcare Partners. “When we open next Wednesday at 7 a.m., we will hypothetically never close until our services are never needed again.”
Services at the center include walk-in services for crisis assessment, 24-hour stabilization beds, referral and transportation to residential services, a crisis/suicide hotline, referrals to local veteran support services, housing and basic needs referrals, substance use assessment and referral, a mobile crisis service, domestic violence assessment and referral, short-term psychiatric services and nursing services amongst others.
A team of registered nurses, counselors, psychiatrists, phone screeners and peer specialists provides these services. One of the center’s main goals is to divert people from emergency rooms, as recent data suggests that upwards of 15 percent of emergency room visits are behavior health related. Those seeking help may be experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts, substance use, anxiety, traumatic experiences, job loss, homelessness, adjustment issues, or have trouble connecting to behavioral health services.
“Too many people show up in the emergency room and start down a path that leads to misdiagnosis, the wrong care and, quite frankly, very expensive care. So instead of going to the ER, folks can come here,” said Governor Gina Raimondo. “I believe that BH Link, once up and running and achieving its potential, will save lives. It will one hundred percent save lives. It will help us meet the challenges of mental health needs in our community. It will help us in our effort to combat the opioid overdose epidemic. It’s a key tool in our toolbox as we meet that public health crisis.”
Raimondo, who proposed creating the center as part of her fiscal year 2019 budget, said that one of the most significant barriers people face in getting the mental health care they need is the stigma that surrounds the issue. She said more discussion is needed to help those who are suffering get into the light and have their problems addressed.
“Get out from the darkness and from under the stigma of mental health and addiction and talk about it for what it is. These are treatable diseases that we can together meet the needs of, and recovery is possible if we all get together and find the right treatment at the right time,” said Raimondo.
BH Link is a partnership between the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Development Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), Horizon Healthcare Partners, and Community Care Alliance. BH Link also received a $300,000 bridge loan for startup costs from the Rhode Island Foundation.
“Too often we heard from individuals and their families that they didn’t know how to get help for mental issues or substance use disorders. The difficulty navigating a complex and fragmented system presented a barrier that frustrated many,” said Rebecca Boss, Director of BHDDH. “As a result, individuals and families ended up in crisis with nowhere to turn. So BH Link is now that somewhere to turn. We know that treatment works and recovery is possible.”
Keri Giacomini is a peer specialist with Community Care Alliance and a new employee at the center. She’s using her past personal experience to now help others. She said her first dealings with the mental healthcare system began at a young age, when as a child she began to experience severe gastrointestinal problems. She was misdiagnosed with an eating disorder and was sent for treatments to deal with the issue.
Giacomini knew that her physical symptoms weren’t caused by an eating disorder, but certain tests were too invasive for children and more mental health services were pushed on her. Eventually, after a few years, it was discovered that she had Crohn’s disease.
“Looking back at all of this, I realized that my first experience with the mental healthcare system was not necessary,” she said. “The doctors were more worried about putting me through invasive medical tests but did not realize that they were emotionally traumatizing me. The trauma is still something I struggle with now, even though it was 25 years ago.”
Giacomini later struggled with the loss of close family members, such as her grandmother, and found herself in a dark place. She was reluctant to seek professional help because of her earlier experiences, but eventually did and her life improved. Giacomini believes her life would have been changed for the better if a facility like BH Link existed and wants to ensure others receive the care she eventually received, but sooner.
“As a peer recovery specialist at the BH Link, I will now be able to help people who may be feeling scared, alone or depressed because of difficult situations they may be going through in their lives,” she said. “I know that the first client that I get to help will be such an empowering experience. I wish something like the BH Link was around when I was experiencing my own mental health issues, maybe I wouldn’t have had to go through some of these difficult times alone.”
Giacomini added, “No matter who walks through the doors at BH Link, they will be treated in an understanding and respectful way and be connected to the help they need to lead better lives.”
Any Rhode Islanders who are having a mental health crisis or who have a family member or friend who needs assistance may call 414-LINK (5465) or visit www.BHLink.org. The hotline and triage center will begin its operations on Wednesday, November 14 at 7 a.m.