Guilford County, Cone Health and a lot of others in the community have been looking forward to this week for a long time. 

Guilford County in partnership with Cone, has now officially launched its long-awaited Behavioral Health Urgent Care at 931 Third St. in Greensboro.

There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the building on Saturday, June 12, and, on Monday, June 14, the county sent out notice of the start of operations at the facility that will be the centerpiece of a new and drastically different mental health care delivery model.

The new service, operating under the motto “A better care in mind,” is meant to serve as the first of its kind in the state. The urgent care facility has been specifically designed for the comfort and care of residents undergoing mental health troubles.

Over the past four years, the county, Cone and Sandhills Center, another partner in the operation, spent a great deal of time working out the details of a complex agreement between the three.  One reason Cone Health officials liked the idea is that the system’s emergency rooms are crowded – and, many times, people with mental health care needs end up making local ER’s even more crowded.

According to a Monday, June 14 press release, the new center will, for the first time, “combine behavioral health services and emergency medical care provided by Cone Health hospitals; creating dedicated, specially designed space in a single location. The urgent care will provide acute behavioral health care 24 hours a day 7 days a week for both adults and adolescents.”

At the ribbon-cutting on Saturday, over 100 people came out to honor the $20 million project that includes 16 beds for adult patients, onsite pharmacy, outpatient services and counseling rooms.

Former Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips, who now chairs the Guilford County Behavioral Health Oversight Board, said in a prepared statement that the new center is “an outward testimony of Guilford County’s commitment to providing exceptional behavioral health care in an inviting and therapeutic space.”

Phillips also said that it’s “an affirmation that we treat and respect our community’s behavioral health needs and remove the stigma associated with mental health.”

The center is the first of two facilities on the campus scheduled to open this year. The second, a 16-bed child-oriented crisis center, will offer extended-stay care for adolescents.  That building, which is next door to the center that’s opening this week, will include a very expensive playground.  The center for adolescents is expected to open later this summer.

The two new centers are supposed to establish a “No Wrong Door” portal in the county for both adolescents and adults experiencing a mental health crisis. One of the concerns with the county’s previous care distribution model was that it could be confusing where patients should go for mental health care.

Guilford County Commissioner Kay Cashion, who also has oversight responsibilities for the center, has been a longtime supporter of the crisis-based mental health initiative.  Cashion has spoken several times at county commissioners meetings about her optimism for the project.

On Monday she issued a statement explaining why she expects that the new model and new center should offer a much, much better system for addressing mental health issues.

“Providing patients with a modern, welcoming space was a key part of the design process,” Cashion stated. “Windows in inpatient rooms provide ample natural light, and the unit includes multipurpose rooms and an inpatient courtyard. It is my sincere wish that this facility will provide comfort, hope, information and inclusion both for the patients and for their family/caregivers who are with them on their journey. “

Cone Health Behavioral Health Services Medical Director Archana Kumar also showed great optimism about the future of mental health care in the state.

“This supportive, caring and therapeutic environment is a place where people experiencing mental health crisis and behavioral health needs can now work with a team of who are dedicated to their successful physical and emotional healthcare treatment experts,” Kumar stated.  “We’re grateful to the community partners like Guilford County Government and Sandhills Center who inspired and led us toward this moment.”