SCHENECTADY — The drop-in mental health clinic on State Street that has proved successful in de-escalating patient crises got a boost Monday: Donation of two years’ worth of salaries for its four employees.
The Living Room Project of Ellis Medicine and Rehabilitation Support Services has helped more than 3,200 patients since it opened in October 2018, and is now averaging close to 100 guests a month.
The 1023 State St. facility is unique in the region and its name is descriptive: Its nonclinical tone and homelike atmosphere provide a place where a patient descending into a mental health crisis can decompress, and potentially avoid the need for an emergency room visit or hospitalization.
The Living Room operates at no cost to patients and its services are not always covered by insurance. So it relies on public grants and donations to keep its doors open.
On Monday, health insurer CDPHP stepped up, hailing the facility’s effectiveness in a time of increased need for mental health services and a diminished corps of professionals able to provide those services.
A licensed clinical social worker, licensed master social worker, care manager and peer counselor are all available on-site, but guests can also come in just to sit and relax in a calming environment.
Most report a significant drop in their internal stress levels, and Ellis estimates that the resulting diversion of these patients from emergency department visits has saved nearly $4 million in billing.
Ellis President and CEO Paul Milton said many people in crisis do need a place to turn.
“The Living Room provides a unique option and a place where people can find solace, a listening ear and the support and resources they need to stay out of the emergency department — at no cost, whether or not the individual is insured,” he said.
CDPHP’s decision to help was multilayered.
Its long-running priority has been to keep its members out of the hospital through better management of their health rather than just treatment of their ills. The insurer also works toward the health of the entire community, not just its members.
And there’s a financial hook: CDPHP has a roughly 40% market share in the four-county core of the region. Many of those who make their way to The Living Room, or who could benefit from it, are CDPHP members or might become members someday. A visit there costs the insurer less than a visit to the emergency room.
“The mental health care crisis has reached a boiling point here in the Capital Region and across the nation. The demand for mental health care services in our community has skyrocketed, yet the supply of local providers has simply not kept pace,” CDPHP President and CEO Dr. John D. Bennett said in a prepared statement. “I am extraordinarily proud of this partnership with Ellis Medicine and looking forward to seeing more patients get the timely, affordable care they need and deserve.”
CDPHP and Ellis would not disclose the value of the donation.
Aside from a temporary decrease during the lockdown in the early days of the COVID pandemic, The Living Room has seen steady growth in usage in its nearly four years.
It is open to adults from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Walk-ins are welcome — no referral or previous diagnosis of a disorder is required.
The staff assesses all guests upon arrival at The Living Room. Some will need only to spend some time in its safe and calming environment. For others, the staff can identify the root of the crisis; provide connections to resources in primary care, mental health counseling, housing, food and legal services; and if necessary, arrange transport to the emergency room.
Approximately 50% of patients do receive referral from The Living Room to some type of mental health services. But only about 10% return to The Living Room for a follow-up visit with a care manager, often due to another crisis.