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Monday, March 6

ADVANCE: Open Access - An Innovative New Approach

Ann Fisher Raney, AM, LCSW

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With a very overburdened mental health system in our state, behavioral healthcare agencies continue to seek and try out different ways to expand access to care. In our efforts to inform members about innovative developments in clinical care, the following article by NASW-IL member and CEO of Turning Point Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center in Skokie, Illinois, describes the efforts of the agency to address this need. We welcome agencies and organizations to share with us their best practices and innovations as we all try in navigate in today’s challenging environment.

For too long, access to mental health services has been a multi-step process for the individual seeking help—a process that has asked people in pain to wait for relief, sometimes for weeks or months. At Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center in Skokie, Illinois, we are delighted to be able to say that this is no longer the case with the advent of our new Open Access program.

Now, with a streamlined process in place, individuals seeking mental health support can be immediately seen by our staff on a walk-in basis during Open Access hours. Open Access is now available at Turning Point 13 hours a week, with specified time windows for individuals with private insurance plans and with Medicaid.

In the past, Turning Point's wait list has been as high as 200 people waiting for services, with an average wait time of 10 weeks for a first therapy appointment. A typical result of individuals having to wait for mental health care is an increase in symptoms, psychiatric crises, and emergency room usage. Others give up and don't get the help they need. Not receiving necessary healthcare can have a significant impact on the client's family, livelihood and the community. Our Open Access program in place at Turning Point changes this paradigm by delivering help when it is needed and desired.

This seemingly simple adjustment took over a year of complex, challenging, agency-wide preparations, as well as generous support from Impact 100 Chicago which helped to fund the start-up costs and supported the necessary program adjustments. The lengthy transformation involved a new centralized scheduling system, a new electronic medical record system, reorganized and expanded staffing, and extensive training and preparations.

The Open Access intake service is staffed by Turning Point master's-level therapists. During service hours, individuals are asked to bring their insurance information, proof of current income, a list of current medications, and names and phone numbers of primary care physician and psychiatrist (if applicable). The appointment begins with a brief screening to ensure that Turning Point's services are a good fit for the client's recovery needs. The client receives an orientation to agency services before being introduced to a therapist or case manager to complete the assessment and schedule a following appointment for services.

Since the Open Access pilot program began in July 2016, Turning Point has welcomed approximately 190 new clients through Open Access and that number continues to grow.

Turning Point is a 47-year-old agency that serves individuals from throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. In the last fiscal year, the agency served over 1,200 clients, 90% of whom were considered low income and many of whom had nowhere else to turn. As an organization dedicated to a mission of, “Solid support, when you need it most,” Turning Point is grateful for the opportunity to build this program and to be able to provide essential, life-saving mental health care to more individuals in need. Details about the Open Access program at Turning Point can be found at www.tpoint.org.


Ann Fisher Raney, AM, LCSW, is CEO at Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center. She received the Solomon O. Lichter Memorial Prize for Scholarship and Professional Leadership and a doctoral fellowship in mental health services research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.Ann completed the Executive Leadership Program of the National Council for Behavioral Health andhas taught at The University of Chicago.

Posted on 03/06/17 at 08:00 AM

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