Georgia based Gwinnett Medical Center has developed an innovative solution in response to the growing number of psychiatric patients coming into its two hospitals’ emergency departments. They noted an annual increase of 20% over the last several years while only having a 1% overall increase in total ED visits.
In response to this situation Gwinnett will open a new 5,000-square-foot specialized behavioral health holding unit that can hold up to eight patients at a time and they can be monitored 24 hours a day. They can stay in a quiet environment and cared for by dedicated behavioral health professionals until they can be transferred to another facility.
The facility took two years and nearly $3 million to create the new unit which is next to the emergency department.
The number of staffed beds at state psychiatric hospitals has declined by about 95% over the past 60 years from more than 558,000 in 1955 to around 35,000 in 2016, according to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, with nearly half of beds available today occupied by those who have committed crimes.
The influx of patients with behavioral health disorders coupled with an overall shortage of available inpatient psychiatric beds in the area has forced the community safety-net provider to hold an average of 10 to 11 mentally ill patients in its emergency department per day, and those stays can last a week or longer before they can be transferred to a treatment facility.
Gwinnett Chief Operative Officer Thomas Shepherd said the hope was the model will eventually result in shorter lengths of stay as a team of care coordinators will be dedicated to the unit to focus on getting patients transferred to a psychiatric facility more quickly. “The whole idea is to get them out of the ED and get them somewhere they need to be.”