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Places for People joins Brightli to expand mental health services in St. Louis region

ST. LOUIS — Mental health services provider Places for People announced Friday plans to partner with Springfield, Missouri-based Brightli — one of the country’s largest nonprofits providing behavioral and addiction recovery care — to expand services in the St. Louis region.

Places for People provides services to more than 2,800 people a year with mental illness and substance abuse disorders at its main campus in the Soulard neighborhood and half a dozen residential facilities across St. Louis. It was founded in 1972 and has 360 employees.

Brightli formed in January 2022 as the parent company of a new venture between of Springfield-based Burrell Behavioral Health and Kirksville-based Preferred Family Healthcare.

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Burrell provides mental health services at 17 locations across central and southwest Missouri, while Preferred Family Healthcare provides a range of health and support services at nearly 100 locations across Missouri and surrounding states, including several in the St. Louis region.

Preferred Family Healthcare operates a walk-in Sobering Support Center on Dunnica Avenue, which opened in 2022, and provides primary health and dental care in addition to therapy, psychiatry, addiction recovery at its community clinics — including programs for youth and those with developmental disabilities.

Under Brightli’s umbrella, Places for People and Preferred Family Healthcare will together serve more than 11,200 people a year through 29 clinical and residential locations across six counties in the St. Louis region, company officials said. They will employ approximately 650 people.

Tony Hilken, the current senior vice president of administration at Places for People will take over as chief executive officer; and current CEO Laura McCallister will become the executive vice president of financial planning for Brightli.

Hilken said the venture will improve access and provide more comprehensive care for clients.

“This partnership will allow us to deliver high-quality services to more people than ever before while preserving and growing Places for People’s legacy,” Hilkin said. “Together, we will build on the synergies of each organization to have a bigger impact on some of the most critical issues facing our region.”

Places for People will remain an independent entity, operating under its name and same board of directors. The partnership is expected to be finalized this summer, with a go-live date of July 1. No jobs will be eliminated, Hilken said.

“The goal of this partnership is to increase our ability to care for clients and enhance the opportunities for our employees,” Hilken said. “This means our goal is to increase the number of people that we serve, and the employees who will be needed to achieve that.”

Brightli is quickly joining the forces of mental health providers across the state. In July 2023, Southeast Missouri Behavioral Health became a Brightli subsidiary. SEMOBH has more than 200 employees serving patients in Farmington, Salem and Poplar Bluff.

Along with a handful of other smaller subsidiaries, Brightil reports serving more than 100,000 people with a total annual revenue of around $500 million, making it the nation’s fourth-largest nonprofit behavioral health organization by total revenue. Places for People lists annual revenue of $22.6 million for fiscal year 2022.

“Joining forces with an organization with the reputation and legacy of Places for People is an outstanding opportunity for Brightli and the people of St. Louis,” said Brightli CEO C.J. Davis. “By adding services in the heart of St. Louis, I truly feel we are creating the most accessible and high-quality network of mental health services in the Midwest, if not the nation.”

As a Brightli affiliate, Places for People will receive its administrative expertise and support, as well as the ability to collaborate and share resources with the other affiliates. Together, they can increase employee recruiting and retention efforts, which has become a major challenge amid workforce shortages and increased demand for care.

The American Psychological Association reports that 60% of psychologists do not have openings and 40% have wait lists of more than 10 patients, and many providers are feeling burned out.

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has been driving demand for care as well as the reduced stigma around seeking help with mental wellness, according to Brightli’s 2023 annual report.

Brightli’s goal is to prioritize providing immediate access to care through walk-in clinics, 24/7 crisis centers and the 988 crisis line; as well as one-one-one or group therapy sessions. These can act as bridge until longer-term specialty care is available, or maybe even avoid the need altogether.

“Everyone deserves quality behavioral health care — especially when in a crisis — and we know robust workforce development programs alone will not be enough,” the annual report stated.

Unionization effort underway

Places for People has not been immune to the challenges.

The partnership with Brightli comes on the heels of efforts by Places for People employees to unionize under SEIU Healthcare, a labor union representing more than 90,000 health and child care workers across the country.

St. Louis Public Radio reported in November that workers were calling on management to allow for an open unionizing process, free from harassment. They accused management of dissuading workers from participating in unionizing efforts, which began in July.

Organizers said they wanted to be able to bargain for equity in pay, time off and other health care benefits.

Gregory Tumlin, a counselor at Places for People, told St. Louis Public Radio that many employees were working over 55 hours a week and only getting paid for 40.

Tumlin also criticized Places for People for not providing time off for their own mental health after caring for difficult cases.

Hilken said unionizing efforts are still underway, and management is working to ensure that caseloads are manageable.

“I respect their right to organize,” he said. “As part of this transition, we are very intentionally planning for a slow and deliberate process that will help us lead to a successful transition.”

Health care workers are trained to help others but increasingly, those workers are the ones needing help, as patients turn violent and lash out.”I’ve experienced and been witness to my colleagues experiencing verbal abuse, sexual assault and harassment and physical violence,” said Maggie, a registered nurse in Colorado of six years.Maggie agreed to speak with Scripps News but asked for her last name to not be used because of safety concerns.”But I’ve been bit, hit, grabbed, and pulled,” Maggie said. “I’ve had urine thrown on me, and semen thrown on me. And I’ve witnessed others who have been seriously and physically assaulted and groped, also. It’s unfortunate that we’re faced with not providing an incredibly high level of care when we’re in these situations. It’s a reality we understand and experience when we go to work.”What Maggie thought was a surge of attacks during the height of COVID-19 hasn’t slowed down.In a 2022 survey by National Nurses United, 48% of the more than 2,000 respondents said violence against health care workers was up in their facility.”It’s broader than just nurses, it’s all providers,” said Colleen Casper with the Colorado Nurses Association.In Denver, the Colorado Nurses Association has been working with lawmakers to get some relief.SEE MORE: Kaiser Permanente workers drive largest US health care strike ever”Nurses are five times more likely to experience violence at work than any other worker, which shocks people,” said Colorado state Rep. Eliza Hamrick.Hamrick sponsored a bill this year that would require health care facilities like hospitals and nursing homes to set up violence prevention committees and offer safety training.Those facilities would also need to provide mental health support to workers on the front line.”This is why this bill is coming forward, because these are people that care for us and we need to make sure that their voices are heard loud and clear at the facility level,” Hamrick said. “So, they feel safe to go to work and they feel part of the process for the nonviolent prevention policies at their facility.”Colorado health facilities are required to report violent incidents to the state. But a new proposal would add some sharper teeth to that requirement. According to Hamrick, failure to do so could result in the loss of their state license to operate.”We have lots of anecdotal stories and evidence, but the reporting and tracking of the incidents is not required federally,” Casper said.Advocates say knowing the full extent of the problem is essential to coming up with a solution, including how to head off attacks before they happen.”It really is important that all of us at the bedside have the skills to recognize and deescalate prior to escalate,” Casper said. “And we don’t want to get into a power struggle. We want to be able to reduce the triggers.Workers like Maggie say their futures depend on it.”My physical person is how I make my living,” Maggie said. “If I were to be injured at work to where I couldn’t work, that would severely hurt my family and our financial situation.”

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