In response to a growing demand for health care, particularly mental health services, county health officials in California opened a mental health urgent care in South Los Angeles at the end of August. This center is intended to immediately treat patients in crisis while also connecting them with ongoing care. This service is part of a growing trend within the United States health care system, which is increasingly utilizing urgent care clinics to fill gaps in its treatment capabilities. Currently, there are an estimated 160 million visits to urgent care facilities every year.
According to Kaiser Health News, the Martin Luther King Jr. Mental Health Urgent Care Center is designed to evaluate, counsel, and medicate incoming patients, as well as provide them with referrals for long-term treatment. The clinic can accommodate 16 adults and six young people at a time, and will surely see a fair amount of use due to the recent increase in patients with mental illnesses at hospital emergency rooms. While the center cannot accept people who are incoherent, extremely aggressive or need emergency medical attention, it is likely to be a better place for the mentally ill than a hospital, which is often a disruptive and extremely busy environment.
The increasing number of patients seeking mental healthcare is believed to be a result of the Affordable Care Act, which gave an unprecedented number of patients medical coverage and expanded the number of people eligible for Medicaid. However, this expanded coverage has affected more than mental health services: many rural hospitals and doctors offices are being forced to turn away patients due to an overwhelming volume of people seeking care. The Seattle Times reported that at least one clinic in Port Angeles, Washington is turning away more than 250 callers a week who are seeking a new physician. This shortage is especially concentrated in rural areas because of the relatively small number of medical providers to begin with, coupled with a low number of new physicians who are willing to work in these small, often isolated communities.
Due to these problems, which are also having their effect on urban and suburban areas, clinics like the Martin Luther King Jr. Urgent Care Center will hopefully help provide necessary treatments, at least until a more permanent solution can be found to treat those who are finally able to afford medical care. The center can allow patients to stay for no longer than one day, but can also place people under a 72 hour hold if necessary. The building will include everything from a kitchen to counseling and support groups, and will also act as a standard medical clinic. Health providers hope this will encourage patients to view the clinic as a “home base” for their health concerns and encourage them to visit when necessary, rather than turning to a likely overcrowded hospital.
Martin Luther King Jr. Urgent Care Center is only one of a number of new mental health clinics in California, and one of many urgent care centers across the United States. However, some private health care providers are reportedly concerned about the challenges of assisting Medicaid patients: Medicaid not only provides less reimbursement than other insurance plans, but some practices must also wait for approval from managed care companies before proceeding with care. Unfortunately, due to the current holes in the structure of the healthcare system, urgent care clinics like California’s new mental health centers will likely be needed to fill a number of gaps in the system until effective changes can be made.