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New EmPATH units will offer expanded access to emergency mental health care

Busy emergency departments are difficult place for people experiencing a mental health crisis. M Health Fairview’s new EmPATH service, launching next year, offers comprehensive care in a calming environment.
M Health Fairview's new EmPATH units, launching in 2021, will enable people with emergency mental health needs to receive expert treatment tailored to their needs in a calming environment. Image courtesy of BWBR.

Emergency Medicine Physician and Psychiatrist Richard Levine, MD, understands how overwhelming a busy hospital emergency department can be for someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

“By their very nature, there is always a lot going on in emergency departments: loud noises, people moving quickly, and a lot of activity,” said Levine, who serves as medical director of Outpatient Mental Health and Addiction Services for M Health Fairview. “It can be very anxiety provoking and triggering for people with mental health concerns, which makes the emergency department a difficult place to take care of those issues.”

That’s why Levine is so enthusiastic about M Health Fairview’s new Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment, and Healing (EmPATH) service, an outpatient mental health care model launching in 2021. Minnesota’s first EmPATH unit will open at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital early next year, with more to follow across the M Health Fairview system.

Learn more about M Health Fairview's commitment to compassionate mental health care. 

EmPATH reimagines emergency mental health care by offering patients in crisis immediate access to a team of mental health experts in a calming, living-room-style environment. After a quick triage process, patients with mental health or substance use disorder needs are guided to EmPATH. There, they will get compassionate care to stabilize their situation, reducing the likelihood that they will need to be admitted into a hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit.

EmPATH spaces are designed to be soothing and relaxing, with natural light, comfortable seating, and private sensory rooms. Each unit is staffed by a highly skilled team that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses, clinical social workers, and other licensed mental health professionals who will work with each patient to identify needs, administer medications, and begin appropriate treatment and healing.

In addition to rapid treatment, EmPATH providers will partner with each patient and the patient’s loved ones to develop a care plan. Our teams will also provide connections to follow-up services, so that each person will leave with a roadmap for ongoing care.

“For mental health, treatment isn’t as simple as prescribing an antibiotic,” Levine said. “Part of EmPATH’s effectiveness is that it establishes building blocks for future treatments patients will receive. The hope is that we can get more patients on the right path right away, so we are providing better short- and long-term care.”

“A mental health hospitalization can be difficult, and it’s only appropriate when patients cannot reasonably care for themselves safely,” said Lewis P. Zeidner, PhD, M Health Fairview’s clinical director of behavioral healthcare providers. “It’s our job as mental health professionals to help our patients become self-sufficient. If patients can avoid hospitalization through use of other care models, then they can start using their new skills in their daily lives to build resilience.

“The goal is to help them get through the current crisis, while equipping them with coping skills that will help them handle future crises,” Zeidner said.

That level of individualized care isn’t always available in an emergency department. While hospital emergency departments are a critically important part of healthcare’s safety net in America, they may only address a person’s short-term mental health needs without providing a long-term solution. In spite of this, people experiencing mental health or substance use disorder crises often end up in the emergency room of the nearest hospital. Nationally, 1 in 8 emergency room visits involve mental health or substance use conditions.

“EmPATH removes the burden of finding appropriate outpatient care from the patient,” said Mandy Seymour, M Health Fairview’s vice president, mental health and addiction services, inpatient and hospital-based care. “Combined with the carefully designed environment and treatment approach, EmPATH allows us to de-escalate mental health crises, creating positive outcomes for patients.”

Mental health patients aren’t the only people who stand to benefit from the introduction of EmPATH in the Twin Cities. Moving behavioral health patients out of emergency departments and into EmPATH units will streamline patient flow, meaning people coming with other illnesses or injuries – from heart attacks to broken legs – will have faster access to emergency care.

EmPATH will supplement – not replace – other types of mental health care. Inpatient psychiatric care will still be a major component of M Health Fairview services, and our system will continue to offer a full spectrum of other programs, including clinic-based outpatient care, therapy, psychological testing, and our Behavioral Health Home care.

“The best outcomes occur when patients participate in their own care plans and progress,” Zeidner said. “Having a full spectrum of options available allows us to match a person’s life circumstances to a personalized care path, and keeps patients motivated once they are on that path.”

“There is a growing need for mental health care. As the largest provider of mental health services in the Upper Midwest, it is our responsibility to develop new, innovative care models that better serve our patients,” Levine said.