New facility at Bartlett Regional Hospital prepares to launch services at Southeast Alaska’s first crisis stabilization center


Shane Ersland


Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital opened a new facility that is assisting Alaskans with mental health challenges, and will soon offer crisis care services based on the state’s new Crisis Now model. 

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The Aurora Behavioral Health Center will expand Bartlett’s comprehensive approach to addressing urgent mental health needs by operating the first crisis stabilization center for residents in Southeast Alaska. Jennifer Carson, executive director of behavioral health at Bartlett, discussed the mental health challenges residents in Juneau and surrounding areas face with State of Reform.

“Just like everywhere else, we’re seeing increased needs for things from depression to mild and severe suicidal ideations, co-mingled with substance use,” Carson said. “And we have a subset of individuals who are experiencing chronic mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. We’re seeing it in people of young ages and the adult population.”

Construction on the new center is not yet complete, so it has not begun offering crisis care services yet. It is currently offering Bartlett outpatient psychiatric services (BOPS) and applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, however. 

BOPS offers psychiatric evaluations, medicine management, and therapy for patients of all ages. ABA serves kids from age two through 18, and staff there have extensive experience working with children with disabilities and autism.

“It’s doing some intensive work with kids on the autism spectrum. It’s working with them to learn social skills and social cues. That’s one thing they struggle with is (knowing) how to respond and how to react in social situations. So they get pretty intense work with our team. They work with them in school, at home, and here.”


The ABA team works with kids through various exercises to try and improve their tolerance levels and increase patience, including short periods of time in which they are separated from their mobile devices. 

“It’s little things, like a kid has to be OK not holding on to their device for a little while,” Carson said. “And they’re working on other social situational skills.”

The ABA team works with a caseload of about 30-40 kids, and maintains a waitlist. 

Once construction is complete on the new Aurora Behavioral Health Center, it will begin offering crisis care services through a phased approach.  

“We want to start soft and build to our strengths. Since these are new services across the state, the regulations haven’t been finalized yet. So we’re trying to ensure that we’re going to be in alignment with the state as we open.”


The Crisis Now model features multiple components that will work together to prevent suicide, reduce the inappropriate/unnecessary use of emergency rooms and correctional settings, and provide support for residents in crisis. Its components include:

  • A regional or statewide crisis call center
  • Centrally deployed mobile crisis teams that respond in-person to people in crisis 24/7
  • Short-term and 23-hour stabilization services that offer safe and supportive behavioral health placement for those who cannot be stabilized by call center clinicians or the mobile crisis team

When the Aurora Behavioral Health Center’s crisis stabilization center is fully-staffed and operating, it will provide 23-hour crisis stabilization and short-term crisis residential services. It will offer 24/7 crisis care to adolescents and adults. 

“The plan is to start with adolescents,” Carson said. “The need for some type of crisis adolescent service is a need across the US, not just Alaska. There aren’t a lot of services for adolescents. So that’s what we’ll be licensed for, and eventually we may open it for adults as well. We’re still trying to figure out our space.”

The crisis stabilization center will aim to be a short-term solution for adolescents in crisis situations, Carson said.

“The intent is that someone wouldn’t stay long-term. We’re looking for shorter-term scenarios like a 15-year-old whose mom and dad are getting a divorce. They could come in and take a break from home and all that arguing. They might have depression and anxiety, and need quick coping strategies. This would be a safe place for them to come, get stabilized, and then go back. We would not be a good place for someone (in need of) severe behavioral health treatment.”


Like most healthcare facilities across the US and Alaska, Bartlett faces workforce challenges, which could play a role in the new center’s operations. 

“There’s a shortage of staff just like everywhere else,” Carson said. “That’s why we’ll do a phased approach. We want to go for success, and since this is a new service to the state and we’ll be the first to open, we want to make sure we can do any type of performance improvement along the way.”

Bartlett also offers services at its Rainforest Recovery Center, a substance abuse treatment program that provides patients with the care they need to obtain and maintain sobriety. The 16-bed center offers voluntary individualized treatment.

“We typically have a bed or two open there when needed,” Carson said. “But we’ve had to limit the amount of beds [available there] due to staffing shortages. We try to be creative in our staffing, but we take safety very seriously.”