The very nature of the word “crisis” means you cannot plan for it and it can happen anytime or anywhere.
But, for 10 years now, parents of children in a mental or behavioral health crisis know help is just a phone call or ER visit away.
A mental health assessment and referral service, Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC) is staffed by licensed independent social workers and licensed professional clinical counselors 24/7. Assessments can lead to a referral to one of Akron Children’s intensive outpatient behavioral health programs, one of about a dozen community resources, or, in the case of children deemed to be a risk to themselves or others, admission to Akron Children’s c.
Akron Children’s Hospital opened PIRC in a small space in Ask Children’s, then located on the 4th floor of the Locust Professional Building. A year later, office space was created in the Emergency Department, which allowed PIRC staff to be fully integrated into the fabric of the ED. The space was renamed the “Emergency Services Behavioral Health” unit and housed a nurse, mental health technician and an office for the PIRC staff.
PIRC has conducted more than 22,000 comprehensive diagnostic assessments with patients since 2007, and the small but close-knit team has been enriched by a decade of wide-ranging experiences.
“Our employees are dealing with families in crisis,” said Pat Seifert, PhD, who help create PIRC and has directed it over the past 10 years. “The situations are sad, challenging and stressful and yet we have had very little turnover. It’s a testament to their commitment.”
PIRC began with a $1.2 million grant from The Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation, which also helped fund the dedicated exam rooms especially designed for families in a behavioral crisis –private, quiet, set off from the bustle of the main ED and more secure for patients who could possibly harm themselves or others.
When the ED moved into the Kay Jewelers Pavilion in May, 2015, the Emergency Services for Behavioral Health Unit continued to be a top priority with office space for the PIRC team and 5 dedicated exam rooms equally private and secure.
“Over the past 10 years, PIRC has helped transform Akron Children’s Emergency Department into a regional resource for children and adolescents in crisis,” said Dr. Tim Lee, medical director of the Akron ED. “Prior to PIRC, a young person with a behavioral health emergency underwent evaluation in the crucible of a busy ER. While an expedient approach promotes patient flow, a high quality mental health assessment requires expertise at an appropriate pace. PIRC staff members approach their work with compassionate curiosity and make recommendations carefully tailored to the patient.”
PIRC turns 10 on Feb. 15. To mark the anniversary of this important community and hospital resource, here are some key facts:
10 Facts to Know about PIRC
- The school year is a major source of stress for many children and teens. Calls to PIRC are highest between January and May and issues like academic stress, bullying, relationships, and transition to new schools/situations are often triggers to mental health crises.
- The PIRC team is a consultation service but the ED attending physician has the final say in the patient’s referral to the appropriate level of care.
- The PIRC team cannot prescribe medication. That is best left to the primary care physician or specialist who is able to follow the patient long term.
- The Akron campus PIRC draws patients from 17 counties.
- PIRC is now available at the Beeghly campus ED, serving patients in Mahoning, Trumbull, Warren and Columbiana counties.
- Patients served by PIRC range from age 4 to 18.
- “A real strength of our program is how knowledgeable our staff is about the community agencies and resources that we use for referrals,” said Kim Bach, PIRC team leader. “We can give parents information about insurance coverage, sliding fees, therapeutic models – all of those things that help them make decisions and move forward with treatment.”
- PIRC patients who are Summit County residents can get a “next day” appointment at Child Guidance and Family Solutions Inc. thanks to Akron Children’s affiliation agreement with that organization.
- “Some parents are looking – maybe hoping – for a definitive diagnosis while in the ED,” said Seifert. “But we remind them that our role is to assess risk and it will be the role of another provider to make that decision. Some behavioral or mental health disorders require considerable time to diagnose and you never want to rush into a ‘label’ or a diagnosis that may prove incorrect.”
- With the recent remodeling and addition of 10 beds in Akron Children’s inpatient behavioral health unit, the PIRC team will be able to reduce the number of patient transfers and diversions to other mental health care facilities. “The demand for mental health services has been identified as one of the biggest needs in our community,” said Seifert. “We know families prefer health care to be close to home so this will be a huge step forward in meeting that need.”
If you are an adult who is concerned about a child or adolescent at risk for hurting him or herself, call PIRC at 330-543-PIRC (7472), or toll-free at 1-866-443-PIRC.