URMC bringing new mental health services to Rochester youth

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — New help is on the way to answer the need for mental health services for the youth of Rochester. The University of Rochester Medical Center has created a plan for a walk-in behavioral health center.

URMC said before this vision launched, it was getting about 100 requests a week for a program like this, specifically targeted to kids.

This pediatric behavioral health crisis center will be the area’s first walk-in clinic for children and adolescents.

The point is to have a clinic with resources providing a different experience than if a parent took them into a regular emergency room.

URMC psychiatrist Dr. Michael Scharf said the increase of stress on kids because of COVID sparked the idea.

With walk-ins, you might think wait times will significantly increase, but that’s part of the solution with this new facility.

"One part of having the walk-in center there, at a developmentally, family-centered, pediatric-specific environment to address mental health crisis that does not require going to an emergency room," Scharf said. "So, that real-time access, that’s one and the other is to get people appropriately triaged and connected with the right level of care."

Parents with children who have mental health needs say they’re looking forward to the opening.

Rochester “BIPOC, Mental Health Project” founder, Sara Taylor, has a 13-year-old daughter who has been fighting through a mental health crisis, and COVID only amplified it. She says a child-focused center will be more beneficial than a regular clinic.

“I have a little girl who has been in a three-year crisis spiral,” Taylor said.

Taylor and her daughter have frequently visited the psychiatric emergency center at the University of Rochester.

"That is not necessarily child-parent friendly so the news of the project is definitely great news,” Taylor said.

This new pediatric behavioral health crisis center is focused on being family-friendly, for ages up to 18. Dr. Scharf says children need their own space.

“It was not designed with children in mind and we’ve seen the number of kids coming through increasing since 2015 so this is a better alternative,” Dr. Scharf said.

The clinic is just one of a few phases for this project. There is also an active telephone crisis line and more. URMC anticipates it will help shorten or help alleviate wait times for services. The wait times at the psychiatric emergency center can be as long as 24 hours.

“It might still take a number of weeks to get to your longer-term therapist but the idea is that you have a clinical team connected with you until then,” Scharf added.

Taylor says she hopes URMC takes parent input for the clinic, especially from those who have first-hand experience with a child working through their mental health, like her family.

"When it comes to violence and some of the trauma, and high poverty, is this alone going to meet the community needs? It’s a start but we have to figure out how to operate and implement culturally relevant prevention strategies,” Taylor added.

This will be the area’s first walk-in clinic for children and adolescents. URMC officials said they expect the clinic to be up and running sometime later this year.

Doctors estimate the center will see about 3,000 patients a year.