Newark crisis center provides first step toward recovery
CEO: ‘It’s more like a retreat than an institution’
Special from the Newark Post
— Le’Kesha Ashe, 27, has fought depression and anxiety for most of her life, so it’s easy for her to identify with and understand people going through similar crises.
That’s why she and other certified peer specialists play an integral part in the new RI International recovery response center near Newark, which provides a first step to recovery for people experiencing a substance abuse or mental health crisis.
“We use our lived experiences to support the people we serve,” Ashe said. “They look at you like, ‘Wow, you’ve been there before.’”
The shared experience can help the peer mentors break through to the patients.
“A lot of time, they come in and a wall goes up,” Ashe said. “We go talk to them, and they let the wall down.”
Since opening a month ago at 659 E. Chestnut Hill Road, next to Augusta Square
Shopping Center, the crisis center has already served 50 people. At an open house Tuesday afternoon, state and local officials hailed the center as a new model for treating mental health in Delaware.
“It’s a great first step,” said Michael Barbieri, director of the Delaware Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. “A humane, comfortable, relaxing first step.”
The center, which can accommodate 16 people at a time, operates on what CEO David Covington calls a “living room model.” The main area of the clinic looks much like a living room, with cushy chairs arranged in clusters and a television set and computers available for use. Private rooms contain recliners, not beds.
Clients – who center officials refer to as “guests” instead of “patients” – can check themselves in, be referred there by medical professionals or be dropped off by police officers. The center keeps people for up to 23 hours of observation before on-duty psychologists, nurses and peer specialists determine the best next course of action.
“It’s more like a retreat than an institution,” Covington said. “That makes a difference.”
The more casual atmosphere is less intimidating for a person in crisis than spending hours in a hospital emergency room or being thrown in a holding cell, and medical staff and peer specialists work together to help the person calm down.
Only about one-third of clients have to be moved to a psychiatric hospital, while the rest can be sent home or referred to other services, Covington said.
The facility is the 10th recovery center opened by RI International, and the second in Delaware. The other Delaware location, which opened in 2012, is in Ellendale.
The center bills private insurance and Medicaid when available, and the state pays the rest of the bills, he said. The state has budgeted up to $4 million a year for the Newark facility.
Covington said the facility is also designed to help police officers, who under previous models, often had no choice other than to take a person in crisis to an emergency room, where the officer often has to spend several hours waiting with the patient. However, at RI International, officers enter through a dedicated entrance and turn over custody of the person to staff in a process that only takes about five minutes.
Deputy Chief Kevin Feeney, of the Newark Police Department, said his officers deal with people suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues nearly everyday and welcomes the nearby crisis center.
“We’re very excited,” Feeney said, noting the new facility is more convenient and saves officers time. “It’s a huge benefit for our guys. Our turnaround time before was 10 times that.”
Mayor Polly Sierer said the center is much-needed in the Newark area, and noted that when she toured the facility, she recognized one of the patients as a homeless man who frequents Main Street.
“We do have folks who need assistance, and this will be a great bridge for them to take the first step and move forward,” Sierer said.
As the center was being built, some residents of surrounding neighborhoods expressed concern about the clientele it would attract. However, Covington emphasized that patients cannot come and go as they please, and leave through a “coordinated discharge.” State Rep. Ed Osienski, who represents the area, said he believes most of the concerns were assuaged.
The RI International crisis recovery center is designed to look more like a living room than an institution.