Providence breaks ground on behavioral health crisis center in Anchorage that aims to keep people out of emergency room

a woman standing near a building
Lauren Anderson, the director of behavioral health at Providence Medical Center, said that the new behavioral-health crisis stabilization center will have an immersive open space for a relaxing atmosphere. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)

Providence Alaska Medical Center broke ground Monday on a new mental health crisis stabilization center in Anchorage. The center will have space for 24 people who need mental health or substance-use stabilization. It’s an $11 million project, funded mostly by the state, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, and federal grants.

Lauren Anderson is a manager for behavioral health at Providence and is helping plan and open the center. Anderson said it’s part of the state’s “crisis now” model, which is designed to offer better care for patients in crisis and to make care less expensive. She said the model consists of three parts: the 9-8-8 crisis line, mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization centers. She said they want it to be easy for someone to figure out how to access care. 

“We’re creating an access point for people experiencing a behavioral health or substance use crisis — to know who to call, have somebody to come to them and have somewhere to go when they’re experiencing a crisis,” said Anderson. 

The center will be designed like a living room with recliner chairs that can be used for sitting or sleeping. Anderson said they’re aiming to make it “open and bright” with lots of ways to interact with staff in a relaxing atmosphere. There will be group therapy and a wellness room with interactive art and lights. That’s something Anderson said has shown to help people experiencing all different types of mental illness feel calmer and more grounded. There will be 12 spaces for people who need care for less than 24 hours and 12 beds for people who need care for up to a week. 

Anderson said the center will have peer support as well — those are people with lived experience of mental illness or substance-use. She said they can help support people in crisis and show that “people can and do recover from substance-use disorders and mental-health conditions.”

Anderson said anyone experiencing a mental health crisis is welcome in the center. 

“People define their own crisis,” said Anderson. “We don’t define the crisis for them. So when somebody comes in, if their feeling is that they are experiencing a crisis of behavioral health or a substance use crisis, we want them to come seek care.”

a photo of a construction sign that is blocking a building
Providence Medical Center’s constructing a new behavioral-health crisis stabilization center. The center will be designed to have a “no wrong door” policy where the center will take anyone seeking help for a mental health or substance-use crisis. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)

Anderson said they can take time to stabilize there and can be directed to further care, either inpatient or outpatient, when needed.

The crisis now system is meant to cover gaps in mental health care in Alaska. Organizers hope it will mean that fewer people experiencing a mental health crisis end up in an emergency room or jail. 

Steve Williams, CEO at the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, said the crisis center will be much better than the current options for people experiencing behavioral health crises. 

“Hospital emergency rooms are often busy, there’s a lot of external stimulus with equipment and activity and those are often not conducive to someone experiencing a behavioral health crisis,” said Williams. “A correctional center is also not an appropriate place for someone to be receiving care if they’re in a behavioral health crisis. However, there are times currently where that may be the only place to keep a person safe.”

According to the Alaska Mental Health Trust, 23-hour crisis stabilization centers can help resolve crises for 90% of people who get care. In 2021, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority awarded $885,000 to help both Providence Alaska and Southcentral Foundation establish crisis stabilization centers. 

The center is seeking about $4 million more of funding. That would allow them to include a walk-in behavioral-health outpatient clinic for adults and adolescents. The center plans to open its doors by early summer 2024.

RELATED: ‘Nothing else should matter’: At Anchorage roundtable, Sullivan addresses youth mental health crisis with U.S. Surgeon General

Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Rachel here.

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