Treatment and Recovery Center starts second phase of operation; Bert Nash CEO says facility has been running smoothly since partial opening in April

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County, 1000 W. Second St., is pictured Thursday, May 25, 2023.

The Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County has now been open for about a month and a half and, by all accounts, things seem to be running smoothly so far.

That was the message from Patrick Schmitz, the CEO of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, on Thursday afternoon. May 25 marked the start of the second phase of operation for the TRC, located at 1000 W. Second St. — the facility’s observation and stabilization unit for patients who need to stay for 23 to 72 hours will now be accepting patients.

photo by: Google Maps

This map shows the Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County’s location in Lawrence at 1000 W. Second St., right behind LMH Health.

Since April 10, when the facility’s front-of-house urgent care center opened, Schmitz said the TRC has seen more than 150 distinct clients, a handful of whom have returned for follow-up visits. Staff will now be able to escalate patients to a higher level of care, if needed, that is designed to circumvent sending more traffic to places like the hospital emergency room.

“It’s been busy; they’ve been productive,” Schmitz told the Journal-World. “I’ll be honest with you, the level of energy, the mood, the morale over there is really excited, they’re … really excited and now they are moving forward and are starting to realize the purpose for which they were hired and for which that facility was created.”

It’s already clear to Schmitz that the next level of care is greatly needed. Of the roughly 150 patients the TRC has seen so far, Schmitz said 74 of them exhibited suicidal ideation that likely could have benefited from more time in observation or stabilization based on their initial presentation to urgent care. Another six patients needed to be moved to acute psychiatric or emergency department care outside of the TRC.

The urgent care center has been working well and flowing as expected, Schmitz said, and that’s allowed the team responsible for the observation and stabilization unit to focus on its final preparations for that expected patient load. In part, that’s included hiring and onboarding more staff.

As of Thursday afternoon, there hasn’t yet been a patient admitted to the observation and stabilization unit, but Schmitz said staff will be ready for when that time comes.

So far, Bert Nash — which is operating the TRC — has stuck to the timeline it laid out for county leaders as the two parties were in negotiations, and Schmitz said he doesn’t see that changing moving forward. There are still two more phases to come, one in July and another in October, related to the capacity of patients in the newly opened observation and stabilization unit.

That capacity is now at 10 patients and later is set to increase to 16 and then 24, but Schmitz said that doesn’t mean anyone will be turned away between phases.

“… What happens when that 11th patient comes in, or that 12th patient comes in? We’re going to serve them,” Schmitz said. “They’re going to get taken care of.”

As the Journal-World has reported, one feature of the observation and stabilization unit is its ability to accept patients suffering from a more volatile crisis directly from law enforcement and EMS responders and Bert Nash’s mobile crisis response team via a side door.

There’s been plenty of work taking place in the past month to get those folks trained on what drop-offs should look like, Schmitz said, which is one thing county leaders said they wanted to see as they were deciding whether Bert Nash should run the center.

But Schmitz said he expects the vast majority of patients who need to utilize that portion of the facility are actually more likely to end up there after starting at the front door.

“Time will tell, (but) I think the vast majority will come in through the front door to be assessed and determine ‘What is that next best step?'” Schmitz said. “Then, if need be, let’s bring them to the observation unit to give us some time to further evaluate and begin that stabilization piece, and then decide if they need to go to the actual stabilization unit or on to somewhere else — which will end up being, hopefully, a smaller and smaller number that need to go elsewhere.”

Schmitz said there’s also been some work taking place with staff at LMH Health’s emergency department to help them understand the protocol for which patients may be appropriate to send to the TRC. And moving forward, plans are in place to disseminate information about the center’s services to primary care providers in the community, who can then share those flyers with patients.

Another important piece moving forward will be finding permanent leadership for the TRC, and Schmitz said that’s a goal that continues to progress. Dr. Cord Huston, a staff psychiatrist and director for the University of Kansas’ adult psychiatry residency at Bert Nash, is still serving as the center’s interim medical director. Schmitz said Thursday Bert Nash is now working with a recruiting firm to find the center a full-time director of operations.

That firm is currently vetting applicants, he said. According to its operating agreement with the county, Bert Nash has until July 17 to make permanent hires at both positions.

“We feel confident, and we have some really good candidates that we’re aware of,” Schmitz said. “We’re anticipating some additional ones with the recruiting firm, so I do think that we’re on track to meet that (goal) as well.”


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