Over the course of the past several years, urgent care centers have become a popular source of healthcare in the United States. Currently, these walk in health clinics see over 160 million patient visits a year in the U.S. for a variety of non-life-threatening conditions, ranging from nausea and dizziness to flu symptoms and anxiety. But while all urgent care clinics are designed to evaluate the needs of the patients and prescribe necessary medication in a single visit, some centers are beginning to focus on specific disciplines, such as mental health services or pediatric urgent care. Some of these services, especially mental healthcare, may seem unsuited to the urgent care model. However, urgent care facilities are far from the first medical centers to offer walk in care for mental illnesses: a walk in health clinic in Minneapolis has been doing just that for 45 years, and has no intention of stopping.
The Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis was founded in 1969, when the area's burgeoning youth movement was at its height. Noticing high numbers of runaway and homeless youth entering the city to partake in its counterculture movement and explosion of drugs, local psychologists decided to form a walk in health clinic to address mental and emotional trauma. Today, that 45 year old program is one of the oldest and most respected of its kind in the U.S.
To meet the needs of the local population, the Walk-In Counseling Center employs a staff of six paid employees and a high number of volunteer mental health professionals. This group offers free private therapy sessions five days a week to anyone who walks into their clinic or two satellite locations. While their patient demographics have shifted from teenagers to low-income adults, the center reports that it treats around 1,800 people a year.
In recent years, the passing of the Affordable Care Act has closed a number of free walk in health clinics in the state of Minnesota: as more people have become able to access health insurance, their free services simply haven't remained necessary. However, the Walk-In Counseling Center still accepts no insurance. Instead, they have seen their services shift: many of their clients may not be in crisis, or are reluctant to have family members and spouses on a shared insurance plan learn about their situation. In many cases, clinic visitors may simply want a confidential, easily-accessible person they can talk to. While this differs somewhat from the clinic's original mission, it is proof that after 45 years, the clinic's walk in mental health services are still needed, and will benefit other communities as urgent mental healthcare spreads.