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Crisis stabilization center opens

By Sara Bongiorni
Strangers began calling Charlotte Claiborne in the weeks before the opening of the Bridge Center for Hope, sometimes late at night, always frantic with worry.

Each caller asked Claiborne the same thing: a family member was in crisis—was the crisis stabilization center open and could it help their loved one? “There was a sense of anticipation,” said Claiborne, executive director of the new Bridge Center for Hope. “It is something people have heard about and something the community needs.”

FOUNDATION FACT: The Bridge Center for Hope is a civic project of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Our members provide annual support for all Foundation projects. If you aren’t a member, you can join at Memberships start at $200.

There is no arguing the need for the taxpayer-funded crisis stabilization center—the first such facility in Louisiana. There were about 3,000 psychiatric calls to parish emergency responders in 2019, Claiborne said. Baton Rouge police received about 2,400 such calls the same year.

Overdose deaths spiked in 2020 as the pandemic forced existing counseling services to shift from face-to-face visits to telemedicine. “The pandemic has posed an additional challenge for some in need of services,” Claiborne said.

The 24,000-square-foot crisis stabilization center is at 3455 Florida Blvd., near the North Acadian Thruway intersection and across the street from the Baton Rouge General. It provides round-the-clock care to all who need it. Its no-wrong-door policy means no one in crisis is turned away.

The Bridge Center will serve up to 5,000 people per year. Ir provides crisis stabilization services at its new site on Florida Boulevard near the intersection of North Acadian Thruway.
The Bridge Center will serve up to 5,000 people per year. Ir provides crisis stabilization services at its new site on Florida Boulevard near the intersection of North Acadian Thruway.

Arizona-based RI International, a leader in crisis stabilization whose practices are reshaping recovery care in the U.S. and globally, is running the center, which opened in February.

Currents spoke with Lysha Best, Louisiana state director for RI International, about what the opening of the Bridge Center means for Baton Rouge and the services it will provide for up to 5,000 residents each year.

Currents: Can you tell us what happens when a person comes through the doors of the Bridge Center for Hope?

Lysha Best: The first stop after people come through the lobby is our 23-hour observation unit with 16 reclining chairs. That’s where we do clinical assessments, psychiatric evaluations and risk assessments to give us a bigger picture of what each person needs. We also offer everyone a shower, a meal and the opportunity to meet with someone on our staff. We start providing care right away, no matter what brings someone in.

Is there a specific need for care or form of crisis that most often brings people to you?

Individuals who come in are in crisis, but the nature of crisis is different for each person. Maybe they just lost their mom or their job. If you feel you are in crisis and you don’t know what to do, we would be the place you’d want to come. We’d help you by first understanding what brought you in and then connect you to the resources you need.

So grief is something that might bring someone to the Bridge Center? Your services extend beyond substance abuse and mental health?

Yes, absolutely. Behavioral health is very broad, broader than mental health and substance abuse. Anyone can go into crisis at any time. You could be fine and then you lose your job or you lose a loved one and your world falls apart.

What services do you provide?

There is the observation unit with 16 reclining chairs, a 16-bed short-term psychiatric unit where the average stay is three to five days, a 16-bed detox unit with a stay of up to 28 days and a 16-bed respite unit. The respite unit provides individuals with respite from their daily living situation to prevent them from going into crisis. The average respite stay is seven to 10 days. We also have care-management and mobile-response teams.

How long will most people stay at the Bridge Center based on what you’ve seen elsewhere?

Most people—about 70%—are stabilized in 23 hours and then return safely to the community. Most spend the night, but some people might stay with us just a few hours depending on their needs. There is no minimum time of stay.

What is the “warm handoff” and why is that important to RI International’s care model?

Ri International’s Lysha Best
Ri International’s Lysha Best

We make out-patient appointments with community providers for all guests before they leave, and note that we use the term guest rather than patient or client. The warm handoff means we make sure guests get to that first community appointment. Our care-management team sets up appointments and then follows individuals for up to 30 days after they leave us. The team can transport people to appointments or even go with them to the first appointment if the person wants that—the idea is to make sure they are safely handed off to the next provider. It works.

You were with RI International in North Carolina before relocating to Baton Rouge. What did you learn about the role of the warm handoff in your work there?

In North Carolina, when we didn’t have a warm handoff, we’d see the same people a lot. They’d come back to us because they’d forget their appointments or lose their paperwork and end up in crisis again. We saw a dramatic difference when we implemented a Peer Bridger Program similar to a warm handoff. When people made it to that first appointment, they didn’t return to us.

How will the mobile-response team work?

Our 24/7 mobile-response team is made up of two people: a licensed mental health professional and a peer-support specialist who has lived experience with mental health or substance abuse challenges. The team will travel in a van with our logo in response to crisis calls in the community. We will relieve stress on EMS because 911 will dispatch us if they determine there is not a medical need or an imminent threat.

What kind of impact are we likely to see in Baton Rouge after the Bridge Center’s opening? Will we start to see fewer people in crisis in the community?

You will see a difference in the community. Now in Baton Rouge we send people in crisis to jail or the hospital. One impact is that wait times in emergency rooms will go down for everybody because people in crisis won’t be taken there by police officers—they will come to us instead. People with mental health or substance abuse challenges also won’t be sitting in jail cells—we offer a safer, better option for them.

Do you have a specific turnaround time for officer drop-offs?

It’s 5 minutes. If someone comes to us through the front door of our lobby, it means they’ve come voluntarily on their own or with a friend, family member or community provider. Individuals who come to us via law enforcement come through an entrance on the side of the building that makes it easier to come in and out quickly. We have a streamlined process that allows officers to quickly return to patrol.

How has the pandemic shaped your operations?

A lot of people are depressed because they’ve lost someone to COVID. Or maybe they’ve lost their job as a result of the pandemic and are in crisis for that reason. It’s also shaped the process when people come to us. With COVID, we do temperature checks and other screenings outside the door by a registered nurse in full personal protective equipment. Employees are also screened every morning. If we find out someone who is staying with us is COVID-positive, we isolate them and take other safety precautions.