BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The growing need for more mental health care treatment options is sparking innovative approaches to a complex system. And that includes shifting the mental health care model from hospitals to respite and recovery.

Since January, News 4 Investigates has been reporting on issues and solutions, profiling numerous organizations that are stepping up to the challenge.

Now, another option is about to come online.

The Kirsten Vincent Respite and Recovery Center, located on Maple Street in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt community, is scheduled to open its doors very soon.

The center is dedicated in memory of the organization’s former CEO, a leader and innovator in the field of mental health.

“Really, this was envisioned close to five years ago by our former CEO, Dr. Kirsten Vincent, who unfortunately did unexpectedly pass away in May of 2021, just after we had identified this as, really, the ideal location,” said Shannon Higbee, CEO of Recovery Options Made Easy.

The center celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 11, but construction workers are still putting the finishing touches on the building, which could officially open in the next several days. 

“Just this week, as we were doing our community walk-throughs for the sight, a gentleman from the community said, ‘Sometimes, someone just needs somewhere to go. Someone to talk to. A space to feel safe’,” Higbee explained to News 4 Investigates.

Shannon Higbee, CEO of Recovery Options Made Easy

It is the latest collaborative effort to help ease the need for more mental health care options.

As pieces come online, advocates hope to reduce the number of individuals falling through the cracks.

Higbee says it will require community education.

“Even now, for lay people, it’s still a difficult navigation piece, and that’s why it’s so important for us to have opportunities to talk about services and service delivery,” she said.

Higbee sees a re-focus on mental health. Not just locally, but nationally.

The Respite and Recovery Center offers four distinct programs under one roof.

First, there are two levels of peer-run respite programs.

“Those individuals do not need a particular referral. They just need to be 18 years and over, and self-identify that they’re experiencing a mental health crisis,” she said.

It is all voluntary in a come-and-go atmosphere where a person can receive support and still meet their obligations out in the community.

Different than institutional care, the respite and recovery setting is flexible and allows people to maintain their connection to the home front.

“They may have recently gotten employment, and then ultimately lost it because of that inpatient stay, Higbee said.

“Having the opportunity to still go to a job if they need to but receive that support in the off hours to identify what their crisis needs are and to link them to the appropriate services.”

Recovery Options Made Easy runs a short-term and intensive crisis respite program operating 24/7.

But in addition to that there are partnerships.

For example, there’s Spectrum Health and Human Services, which Higbee says will offer clinical engagement services under the same roof. 

“So, if someone comes in. They’re not already engaged with services elsewhere, but they want to be engaged in some level of clinical support. It’s right across the hall, Higbee said.

There is also the Renewal Center, which is a living room model approach to mental health care, open 3-11 p.m. seven days a week.

“They’re able to receive peer support. They have peer support for their hours of operation,” Higbee said.

In February, News 4 Investigates sat down with Kevin Smith, the director of Mental Health Peer Connection to talk about the living room model.

“It’s comfortable. It’s personable,” he explained.

Smith said studies have shown that those who sought help at facilities offering the “living room model” reported better outcomes for patients than those who visited emergency rooms for care.

“We’ll help you in the moment. You can leave whenever you want. We don’t force you to do anything,” Smith added.

“The environment itself — it’s comfortable, it’s personable, you’re going to get one-on-one,” Smith said. “You don’t have to worry about the hustle and bustle, the bright lights, people in the waiting room. People are going to listen to you and they’re going to let you know what you’re going through and what you’re dealing with is important to them.”

Shannon Higbee says these are all voluntary services designed to be delivered in home-like community settings.

“That’s ultimately the goal, is to keep people independent in the community, and have the dignity of services that represent their needs while acknowledging that they have lives outside of their mental health crisis.”

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Luke Moretti is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2002. See more of his work here.