Applying complex systems modeling to understand and strengthen Washtenaw County’s local acute mental health crisis care system
Communities across the state and nation are struggling to respond to mental health crises quickly and with positive outcomes for those in crisis. A shortage of mental health providers, staffed inpatient beds, and other systems problems create long wait times in emergency rooms and other crisis care settings, stressing patients, families, caregivers, as well as local mental health, public safety, and criminal justice systems. Many attempts to solve this problem have failed because it is as persistent as it is complex. Beginning as part of an American Psychiatric Association Presidential Task Force, a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) are using complex systems modeling–a way to support decision-making in the midst of complexity–to understand how changing components of mental health systems (e.g., adding an Assertive Community Treatment team) might impact system functioning. To do this, the UNC researchers have built a prototype model of the mental health crisis care system for “Anytown” (a generic community) using realistic, but not real, model parameters. They have created a dashboard for the prototype model, through which decision makers can change model component inputs to see how those changes might affect other parts of the system. In this project, the “Anytown” model will use real data from mental health systems in Washtenaw County to assess the potential impact of system changes on care and service delivery and system capacity.
The CHRT team will 1) assist in identifying the sources of local data–from community mental health, law enforcement, education, and other organizations–to help UNC researchers build the Washtenaw-specific model, and 2) serve as project manager for the research.