Connections Health Solutions

Progressive mental health model: a holistic approach to crisis care

Connections Health Solutions Jun 26, 2024

When 911 is called for a mental health crisis, the default response is often law enforcement rather than mental health professionals - but a proven response model is looking to change that.

In recent years, Arizona has emerged as a trailblazer in the realm of mental health care, pioneering a model that has garnered national recognition for its comprehensive and transformative impact. At the heart of this success story is the Connections Crisis Response Center (CRC) in Tucson, Arizona, which has become a beacon of hope and progress in the field.

Dr. Margie Balfour, chief of quality and clinical innovation at Connections Health Solutions, has played a pivotal role in shaping and advocating for Arizona's innovative mental health model. Balfour strongly emphasizes the importance of recognizing behavioral health as an integral component of overall healthcare. "The healthcare system should fund mental health emergencies just like they do medical emergencies," says Dr. Balfour, advocating for a fundamental change in how society perceives and addresses mental health. In speaking with several publications across the county, here are some of the key elements that make crisis response systems successful.


Keys to a successful crisis response system:

1. Sustainable funding model

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), established after the state adopted Medicaid, plays a crucial role in the success of the model. "What Arizona does is they braid [all funding] through AHCCCS," says Dr. Balfour. This consolidated funding model promotes collaboration among providers, resulting in better outcomes and more efficient use of resources.

Dr. Balfour highlights the state's continued investment in crisis care as a win-win argument, emphasizing its benefits from social justice, clinical, and fiscal perspectives. For example, law enforcement's ability to bring individuals to the crisis response center, rather than crowded emergency rooms, streamlines the process, leading to significant cost savings. "Law enforcement can bring people to the crisis response center and be out in under 10 minutes," notes Dr. Balfour.


2. Strong partnerships with law enforcement

The partnership between law enforcement and the CRC in Tucson stands as a cornerstone of the center’s success. The integration of law enforcement ensures swift and efficient responses to crises, diverting individuals away from the criminal justice system and towards the care they need. With a "no wrong door" policy, the CRC welcomes individuals brought in by law enforcement, fostering a seamless and supportive approach to crisis intervention. This collaboration has significantly reduced conflict between police and individuals in crisis, exemplifying a paradigm shift towards a health-first response, where those in need receive help rather than being criminalized.


3. A human-centric approach

At the heart of the Tucson model's success is its unwavering commitment to a human-centric approach to addressing mental health crises. At the CRC, the team prioritizes individuals in crisis by acknowledging their unique needs and circumstances. “You don’t criminalize having a heart attack,” she said. “You don’t send police, and you don’t take people to jail and you don’t handcuff them. Tucson has really taken an approach where there’s all these opportunities for the clinical system to be able to respond to those crises … It’s become a health-first response.” Through specialized training and a compassionate mindset, our team of behavioral health clinicians and peers engages individuals in crisis in careful and empathetic conversations.

The Connections Tucson CRC offers a range of services, including walk-in urgent care, a 23-hour observation unit, and an extended stabilization unit for both youth and adults. The center welcomes every person in need, regardless of ability to pay or severity of need.

In conclusion, Arizona's success in mental health care serves as a blueprint for other states seeking innovative solutions. The Tucson model prioritizes collaboration, efficient funding, and a compassionate, human-centric approach. As the nation grapples with mental health challenges, Arizona stands as a beacon of inspiration for a transformative approach to crisis care that prioritizes the well-being of individuals in crisis and the community at large.







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