April 6, 2023 (Reprinted from NYAPRS ENews)
NYAPRS Note: We are very excited to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Kirsten Vincent Respite & Recovery Center in Buffalo next Tuesday! The opening of the Center, which utilizes an innovative and collaborative approach to offer a range of mental health services provided by three different agencies all under one roof, is the culmination of work started by the late Kirsten Vincent and other mental health leaders in Western NY. See below for more information about the Center and what it took to make Kirsten’s dream a reality
‘Unprecedented Collaboration’: Could Innovative Model in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt Bolster Region’s Mental Health Services?
Jon Harris | The Buffalo News | Apr 6, 2023
Kirsten Vincent was an innovative leader who worked to eliminate gaps in the mental health system as the CEO of Recovery Options Made Easy, a peer-run agency in Western New York. Until her unexpected death nearly two years ago, Vincent had pushed for a first-of-its-kind model in New York designed to support crisis stabilization and continued recovery.
The model she envisioned included a number of services under one roof, seeking to ensure that everyone had access to the right level of care and that, as a result, fewer people would slip through the cracks of a system in desperate need of repair.
Her vision is nearly fulfilled.
The ribbon will be cut Tuesday at the Kirsten Vincent Respite & Recovery Center at 111 Maple St. in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt. The renovated facility, formerly the St. John Baptist Hospice Buffalo House that had sat vacant for several years, will open its voluntary, recovery-focused services to the community April 17.
During a tour of the facility, Recovery Options CEO Shannon Higbee recalled Vincent as someone who had several degrees but, first and foremost, identified as a peer with lived experience.
“She would have loved that we got this to the finish line,” said Higbee, noting Vincent had been talking about this model since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
And the result of all that work, by Vincent and then by the leaders who came after her, is something unique in today’s health care scene: a facility comprised of separate providers all collaborating to bolster mental health services in Western New York. The aim is to get people the support they need in the appropriate setting and, in turn, avoid unnecessary trips to overcrowded and overwhelmed emergency departments.
Inside the center are four mental health support programs to meet people wherever they are in their recovery. The center includes two levels of Recovery Options’ peer-run respite services – a short-term crisis respite and an intensive crisis respite – as well as a renewal center associated with Western New York Independent Living and clinic services from Spectrum Health & Human Services.
“I’ve been in this work for about 45 years, and I would say this is probably the most collaborative we’ve truly been,” said Bob Cannata, Spectrum Health’s senior vice president of business development and community crisis services.
Mark O’Brien, commissioner of the Erie County’s Department of Mental Health, said the project represents an “unprecedented collaboration of three agencies under one roof” – a new model that has gained funding support and the attention of the state.
The center secured $1.9 million in funding to support capital development, startup costs and outfitting from a variety of sources, including the state Office of Mental Health; the Erie County Department of Mental Health; the Erie County Legislature; the John R. Oishei Foundation; the Patrick P. Lee Foundation; and the Peter and Elizabeth Tower Foundation.
A Pivotal Moment
To O’Brien and others, the center’s opening comes at a pivotal time, as mental health is getting more attention – and dollars – statewide and federally after the pandemic brought on an increased demand for services. The need may be even greater in Buffalo, which has persisted through one traumatic event after another over the last 11 months.
Increasingly, a system that for too long resembled a one-size-fits-all solution appears to be adapting. With new solutions coming online, that could alleviate some of the pressure and volume at Erie County Medical Center’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, a 24/7 service known as CPEP that serves as the largest safety-net mental health emergency department in the Buffalo Niagara region.
“We believe that 2023 will be a really important year for crisis response capabilities,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said the Kirsten Vincent Respite & Recovery Center will enhance the community-based crisis response with its range of services, which could help keep people out of CPEP or the hospital while also serving as a “discharge refuge.”
In addition, BestSelf Behavioral Health late this year hopes to open an intensive crisis stabilization center at its 430 Niagara St. location, which would give Western New Yorkers experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis another 24/7 option to receive care and support.
O’Brien said the county also has an ongoing ambulance diversion pilot program, a 911 call diversion program and is working with ECMC to reduce the demand and flow there so “that those folks who are making it to CPEP are really the people who need that level of care.”
What the Center Offers
The Kirsten Vincent Respite & Recovery Center will offer four levels of service, geared toward eliminating the need to transport people across the city in times of crisis and allowing individuals to move between the facility’s services as needed.
There is the Renewal Center, an existing program run by Mental Health Peer Connection, which is part of Western New York Independent Living. The Renewal Center, which is based on a living room model, is relocating from its current home at 327 Elm St. to the Kirsten Vincent Respite & Recovery Center and will keep its 3 to 11 p.m. daily walk-in hours, though it is always looking for funding to expand its hours, said Kevin Smith, director of Mental Health Peer Connection. Smith said the Renewal Center has six staff members rotating in and out, including a program manager, two part-time registered nurses and three peer-support specialists.
Recovery Options will have two levels of respite at the center, allowing individuals – who are at least 18 years old – who need a space to regroup and recover to stay up to 28 days while still having the ability to leave to go to work, attend medical appointments or take care of other responsibilities.
The short-term crisis respite, called Refreshing Waters, is an existing model running in Erie County that is moving to the center. The short-term crisis respite has four beds and offers 24-hour peer support.
The intensive crisis respite, called Restful Rivers, will have eight beds and 24-hour peer support, as well. Further, the intensive crisis respite will have 24-hour nurse coverage as well as psychiatric support and additional components over the short-term crisis respite.
While all the programs at the center are aimed at diverting people away from avoidable hospital visits, the respite programs, in particular, also offer a “step down from inpatient stays,” meaning it could help unclog hospitals as people prepare to reenter the community independently, said Higbee, Recovery Options’ CEO.
“It allows us to create flow within the system, so that we open up inpatient beds for those that need it, hopefully a little more quickly, by allowing them a supported step down to the intensive and then even from the intensive to the short term, if that’s available and necessary,” she said.
Rounding out the model of the Kirsten Vincent Respite & Recovery Center is a clinic from Spectrum Health, which has four offices in the new facility and will be able to serve community members as well as those who might be staying in the respite programs. Cannata, of Spectrum Health, said the provider will have up to five crisis counselors from Spectrum Health’s Buffalo H.O.P.E. Program who can provide free, anonymous and confidential emotional support. The provider also will be able connect people with other Spectrum Health services as needed.
“What they’re not going to hear is, ‘Oh, we don’t have anybody on site, so we can’t give you that,’ ” Cannata said. “We’re always going to be able to help people get what they need.” To start, Spectrum Health staff will be at the center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, hours that will be assessed depending on community need.
Between all the different providers on site, Higbee said the center will probably have 40 to 50 staff members total, eight to 12 of whom could be on site on any given shift.
Jennifer Levesque, director of clinical programs at Recovery Options, said the center having several levels of service is crucial, helping to meet a person wherever they are in their recovery when they take that difficult first step of seeking help and support.
“It is not a one-size-fits-all model – that’s really where you lose people to mental health,” she said. “We just want to make sure that people are getting what they need to be successful in their recovery.”
A couple of upcoming events will raise funds for the Kirsten Vincent Respite & Recovery Center. “The Concert for Jenn,” a sold-out show in honor of the late Jennifer Orr, who died in November after a long struggle with mental health and addiction, will be held Friday, April 21, at Nietzsche’s, 248 Allen St. in Buffalo, with all proceeds going to the Kirsten Vincent Respite & Recovery Center. While the show is sold out, organizers have formed a GoFundMe, with donations also going to the new center.