M Health Fairview implements new mental health treatment

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M Health Fairview’s EmPATH model is designed like a living room and includes recliners, sensory rooms and natural lighting.

For many people, the past two years have been particularly difficult, marked by loss and confusion from COVID-19.

Experts say it’s more important than ever to recognize this impact on our mental health and increase access to care.

M Health Fairview’s new approach, called the EmPATH (Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment, and Healing) model, treats patients in a calming living room, rather than the busy emergency room.

A year after its debut, doctors say it’s working – already cutting ER admissions by more than half in its first year.

“What we’re doing works, and I think it works in two settings,” said Dr. Lewis Zeidner. “First, we defuse the crisis, and second, we put people on the path to getting the care they need so the emergency department doesn’t become their primary care provider.”

Among M Health Fairview care providers, 17,000 patients a year are admitted for a mental health crisis. That’s a number that Dr. Zeidner says is growing every year.

“Often by the time someone arrives at an emergency department, they’re really in crisis,” Dr. Zeidner said.

The chaotic environment is not ideal for someone in crisis, so it was clear that a new approach to care was needed – an approach that some University of Minnesota students have, in part, devised.

“A lot of the artwork is natural scenes, there’s natural light, unlike a traditional emergency department, and then there are sensory rooms,” Dr. Zeidner said.

This is a one-of-a-kind space in Minnesota that gives patients the time they need to be fully treated by mental health clinicians in a less restrictive space.

Data from the first year shows it reduced hospitalizations by 60% for people with mental health symptoms. Before EmPATH opened, Southdale Hospital admitted about 40% of people who presented to the emergency room with a mental health crisis. Now, with the specialist care provided by EmPATH, that number has dropped to 16%.

He’s helped some 2,200 people so far, and what’s more, says Dr. Zeidner, they rarely treat the same patient twice.

“We’re able to resolve the crisis, help them resolve their crisis, and they can get back to their normal lives,” Dr. Zeidner said.

And when a patient is discharged from care, experts have already scheduled an appointment with an appropriate clinician, who then follows up with a phone call.

Fairview now plans to expand EmPATH services at its largest hospital, M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center, which will serve adult and pediatric patients.

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