Common Ground evolving mental health crisis care, exploring artificial intelligence chat line – The Oakland Press

It’s been five years since Common Ground opened its Resource and Crisis Center in Pontiac and the organization is continuing to evolve how it serves the 8,000 people who come through its doors on Telegraph Road each year.

The nonprofit center is home to a variety of mental health programs including a sober support unit that aims to have clients in treatment in 24-hours, a crisis residential unit for those needing low-level behavioral care and a short-term stay crisis assessment and stabilization unit.

Common Ground served 88,000 people last year between its Pontiac center and its 24-hour shelter for at-risk youth in Royal Oak. Roughly 50,000 of those people used the center’s crisis hotline, according to Jeff Kapuscinski, director of business development. The nonprofit began expanding its texting hotline to a 24/7 service in 2018.

“It’s been an unabashed success. We saw 25 percent more people walk in through this building one year ago and we’re continuing to grow our texting and chat hotlines,” Kapuscinski said. “A lot of people affiliate this program with young people, but we’ve found a large audience of people use it. It works for those who can’t speak out loud, like a domestic violence situation.”

Volunteers at the hotline have access to a database of 2,500 resources. A majority of the calls are for lower-level crisis’, like housing issues or unemployment. In order to free up the lines for higher-level situations, such as a mental health crisis, the nonprofit is turning to an artificial intelligence chat-bot.

“The expansion of our chat and text programs added bodies to our hotline, but as the volume of calls increases, we need even more bodies. One of our solutions is to implement a chat-bot to handle low-level resource calls,” Kapuscinski said. “It could also watch for keywords and phrases that would alert us to involve a counselor.”

The program cost is estimated between $35,000 to $40,000. Kapuscinski said he’s hoping to raise the funds to bring the chat-bot this year.

The nonprofit is also looking to build its own electronic health network, which will be integrated with the Oakland Community Health Network. New positions were also added in the past year, such as recovery coaches who are required to lift or move over 250-pounds. Kapuscinski said they’ve seen a decrease in violent incidents in its residential units with the addition of the new coaches. A new home stabilizer position was also created — They work with children at the center whose families are unable to stay with them.

“Our awareness is getting better and our message is getting out,” he said. “But when we compare ourselves to other places, like Yuma County in Arizona which has a slightly smaller population but a higher Medicaid population, we should be three times the size we are. That part is very real, and we have to continue searching for answers.”