At Sinai and beyond, leaders work to fill mental healthcare gaps

One of the top problems in the healthcare system is that hospitals are continually left to fill gaps in mental healthcare, and now major providers are formulating plans to fill those gaps.

The nation’s emergency physicians say patients’ mental health needs are increasingly kicked over to them according to (.pdf) research from the American College of Emergency Physicians. About half reported psychiatric patients are placed in the ED to wait for an inpatient bed to open up at least once a day, and nearly 60 percent said wait times and boarding were longer for children with psychiatric issues.

"Virtually every emergency physician I know can report anecdotally about the surge in psychiatric patients filling their emergency departments waiting for care in the last year," Rebecca Parker, M.D., president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in an announcement of the results. "It is an outrage. These patients have needs that are simply not being met."

Sinai Health System, which operates numerous providers in the Chicago area, has developed a $10 million strategy to fix mental healthcare access for its patient population, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The plan calls for improved mental health triage services at Holy Cross Hospital, which the network acquired in 2012, and will feature an outpatient clinic, a 24-bed inpatient unit and a 32-bed crisis-stabilization unit, according to the article.

Similarly, Madison, Wisconsin’s SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital is expanding its mental health resources in response to cutbacks in the area, according to Channel 3000. Its existing unit is decades old and only has a service capacity of about 20 patients at a time. "Parts of our current unit feel somewhat dated," Matthew Sager, M.D., a psychiatrist at St. Mary’s, told the publication. "The newly redesigned space will have a very calming and therapeutic feeling. We know that the environment can impact a patient’s emotional well-being. We look forward to being able to provide a more home-like setting.”

In Columbia, Tennessee, Maury Regional Medical Center and TriStar Health plan a 60-bed behavioral unit in response to what leaders say is a worsening crisis, according to the Columbia Daily Herald. In recent years, the community’s mental healthcare needs have intensified while reimbursement cuts have exacerbated the crisis, although payments are back on the upswing of late, according to Maury Regional CEO Alan Watson.