Northern Pines to open mental health urgent care clinic

The clinic is set to open May 15, and a community open house is scheduled for May 11.

Kevin Hines talks with staff outside the office.
Kevin Hines, a suicide prevention speaker, visits with the staff of Northern Pines Mental Health Center Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Brainerd, after touring the new nonprofit's new urgent care center, which is set to open May 15. Hines was in the lakes area for a series of talks.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — When life gets cold, lonely and dark, staff at Northern Pines Mental Health Center want people to turn to them.

The nonprofit is furthering that goal with a new mental health urgent care clinic in downtown Brainerd.

Opening May 15 at 823 Maple St., the clinic will be open seven days a week, with staff on hand to help those dealing with mental health crises.

People stand in one of the interview rooms.
Kate Sullivan, left, Rick Jackson and Kim Schaefbauer show off one of the interview rooms Wednesday, May 3, 2023, at the new mental health urgent care facility Northern Pines will open May 15. The rooms are designed to be calming and relaxing for patients.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“Sometimes when you go to the emergency room, it’s kind of a sterile environment, and it’s not really conducive to a mental health emergency,” said Kate Sullivan, director of operations at Northern Pines. “They are a completely awesome setup for a medical emergency, but really not our kind of emergency.”

Long wait times and busy, noisy environments aren’t always conducive to someone in crisis either, which is why the new Northern Pines facility is intentionally set up to be welcoming, calming and relaxing.


Cool, calming tones of blues and greens are set up to meet patients in each of the six interview rooms, all aptly named after species of trees. Visitors might begin in Aspen — the family waiting room — after checking into the facility. After that, they’ll meet with a trained mental health professional in Birch, Cedar, Elm, Oak, Spruce or Hickory, the last of which is a room designed specifically for children. A chalkboard covers one wall, and calming toys and reading materials like “Highlight Magazine” lie ready for little hands.

The other lamp-lit rooms are adorned with nature-inspired artwork and have cushioned furniture, adult fidget devices and coloring books available for guests.

Kate Sullivan sits in a chair and talks.
Kate Sullivan, director of operations at Northern Pines Mental Health Center, talks Wednesday, May 3, 2023, about the new mental health urgent care facility that will open May 15.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Willow is the transition room, with comfortable recliners and snacks aplenty for those either waiting for rides home or just needing to relax for a little while before or after an assessment.

Pink noise, a constant sound in the background, fills the airwaves, producing a calming sound that drowns out what is going on outside each room for added privacy.

Plus, the staff onsite will be specially trained to handle mental health emergencies, streamlining what might otherwise be a lengthy, repetitive intake process, according to Rick Jackson, the director of mobile crisis outreach at Northern Pines.

“You’ll be able to come in here and tell your story to people with specialized training in crisis work, as compared to going into the emergency department, where you’re gonna tell the front desk person, and you’re gonna tell the triage nurse, you’re gonna tell the nurse, you’re gonna tell the doctor, and then a lot of times they call us in anyway,” Jackson said.

Because Northern Pines is a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, offering a wide spectrum of health services for both mental health and substance use disorders, staff will be able to pull together resources quickly, with patients leaving with a customized safety plan and perhaps therapy appointments already scheduled.

The many unique facets of the urgent care facility are a new concept for the Brainerd lakes area.


“It’s huge — the ability to walk in without an appointment and see somebody immediately in a calm, warm, inviting atmosphere is something that hasn’t existed up until now,” Jackson said.

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Those of all ages and in varying types of crisis will be able to receive services at the clinic.

“Not just people that are having thoughts of suicide,” said Kim Schaefbauer, clinical director. “But if there was some family conflict in the home, people were just unsure of what next steps to take, a family member was struggling with other mental health symptoms, they could come here as an urgent care — just like a medical urgent care, except for not the medical piece, the mental health piece.”

The door of the Northern Pines Mental Health Center, surroundings visible in the background.
Northern Pines Mental Health Center on Maple Street, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The facility will be a resource for law enforcement officials or first responders who encounter someone in a mental health crisis during a call. Ideally, they would be able to drop someone off at the clinic quickly, without having to wait around.

While the clinic might not be suitable for every crisis-like situation that arises — such as someone who is incoherent or heavily under the influence of drugs or alcohol — staff members also recognize not all mental health crises will look the same and are prepared to help in a wide variety of circumstances.

“A person gets to decide what their crisis is,” Jackson said. “And so it’s not on us to say, ‘No, this is a crisis or that isn’t for them.’ If they’re in a mental health crisis, they’re in a crisis, and we’re gonna help no matter what that looks like for them.”

The clinic hours of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. are based on data analysis showing the peak times for mental health calls. While the doors will not be open 24/7, the Northern Pines mobile crisis outreach program will continue running around the clock, with professionals able to meet those in crisis at home or any other place they might need help.

Small furniture and a chalkboard for drawing in a room.
The children's room at the new Northern Pines urgent care facility includes a large chalkboard and other items to keep children occupied during an assessment.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The urgent care clinic is just one more way staff and Northern Pines plan to reach those in need in the lakes area community. And if this clinic runs well, there's a possibility of expansion in the six-county region the nonprofit reaches.


“We think it’s going to be a really great thing,” Sullivan said.

A community open house for the urgent care clinic is set for 3-6 p.m. Thursday, May 11.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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