Services Relieve Mental Health Burden In ERs

Published on 03/20/09BY JILL COLEY
The Post and Courier

Seven mental health patients filled emarrived. ergency ward beds on March 4 at Trident Medical Center, leaving staff 21 rooms to treat the 147 patients who arrived. Funneling those mental health patients into a psychiatric care network that already is overloaded and shrinking is not easy. This year, two measures went online to alleviate the bottleneck: a new public outpatient service and "tele-psychiatry," bringing psychiatrists into emergency wards via video link for consults.

"We recognize there is a psychiatric emergency room crisis. People go to the ER because they do not know where to go in acute psychiatric distress," said Matt Dorman, director of special operations for Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center.

Another release valve for area emergency wards was a 10-bed crisis stabilization facility that briefly held patients until space in another facility became available.

Earlier this year, the center was forced to close the Crisis Stabilization Center in the face of budget cuts. This fiscal year, the S.C. Department of Mental Health, which is responsible for 17 health centers across the state, lost nearly $2 million of its $17 million budget.

Although the department was able to secure money to cover some of the shortfall this year, the state agency still is behind about $800,000, said Kirby Bond, chief of staff for Charleston Dorchester Mental Health.

"When we closed down, Palmetto Behavioral Health stood up," Dorman said.

In February, the for-profit psychiatric hospital took over the crisis stabilization center on its Speissegger Drive campus.

Indigo Pointe at Palmetto Lowcountry, as the center now is called, is a 10-bed facility with six private rooms and two semi-private rooms. The unit is for voluntary patients whose symptoms can be stabilized within a short stay, and a care plan is made for discharge.

"This unit is the result of a joint venture between private and public entities to work collaboratively," said Cherie Tolley, chief executive officer of Palmetto Behavioral Health.

To address outpatient needs, in March, Charleston Dorchester Mental Health opened a new Psychiatric Urgent Care Center, located at the center's West Ashley office.

Patients can walk in without an appointment and be seen immediately for counseling. The goal is to divert patients from emergency rooms from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Dorman said.

"We provide care for those patients who would report to the ER inappropriately or who have presented inappropriately," Dorman said.

"Urgent Care will allow us to get immediate counseling for patients that will perhaps prevent them from needing to be admitted to a psychiatric bed," said Wanda Brockmeyer, service line director for Roper St. Francis Emergency Services.

The ability to get immediate counseling without admission to a psychiatric facility was not possible before, Brockmeyer said. "We're very excited about that."

Reach Jill Coley at 937-5719 or