M Health Fairview’s new EmPATH model of care features a space for up to 15 patients at a time to relax in a “calming” environment with mental health experts and nurses circulating to provide support. (Photo courtesy M Health Fairview)

M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital is launching its new outpatient mental health care model next week.

The model, called the Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment, and Healing service, or EmPATH, is the first of its kind in Minnesota and one of the only such programs in the county, the health care provider said. Set to open March 29, the new model is expected to bolster support for patients during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic caused demand for such care to surge.

“We recognized that so many (patients) needed some level of crisis intervention, some level of support to get through their crisis ... And something between an emergency department and traditional care model could be useful,” Lew Zeidner, M Health Fairview’s system director for clinical triage and transition services, to the Sun Current. “That really is the root of this innovative program.”

Zeidner mentioned that in addition to the opening of EmPATH at Southdale, M Health Fairview also plans to open another of these units at its University of Minnesota Medical Center-West Bank Campus hospital in 2022.

Through EmPATH, a type of emergency mental health care, patients in crisis will be offered immediate access to a living-room-type environment, cared for by a team of mental health experts, according to a news release by M Health Fairview. The EmPATH unit was also designed for patients with substance use disorder needs.

While there, the patient will receive care that’s meant to stabilize their situation and de-escalate the crisis, Zeidner said.

The “calming” environment, which is a space designated for up to 15 patients at a time, includes natural light, private sensory rooms with soothing music, and comfortable seating such as recliners, Zeidner said. The team of mental health experts and nurses will walk around the space and work with patients to assess their needs and issue medications before determining what kind of ongoing care they require.

“Part of EmPATH’s effectiveness is that it establishes building blocks for future treatments patients will receive,” Richard Levine, medical director of adult outpatient mental health and addiction services for M Health Fairview, said in the release. “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.”

The launch of EmPATH follows closures of some of Fairview Health’s hospitals and services, changes that the organization attributed to COVID-19.

When Fairview Health announced the closures in October, the health care provider also indicated its intent to get rid of 18 inpatient mental health beds at Southdale, which mental health advocates said at the time was concerning.

But M Health Fairview said evidence shows that an emergency room is not the best setting for most of these patients. A hospital’s emergency department can be loud and busy, and for some people with mental health concerns, this can be anxiety-provoking, Levine said.

The individualized expert care offered by the EmPATH model isn’t always available in emergency departments, according to M Health Fairview. While these departments are vital for hospitals, they may only address the short-term needs of patients without a long-term plan for the future, Fairview said in a news release.

In addition, the health care provider mentions that moving patients with mental health needs out of emergency departments and into EmPATH units will allow those with other illnesses or injuries have to have faster access to care.

As M Health Fairview is the largest provider of mental health services in the upper Midwest, the new model is intended to be used in addition to other types of mental health care the system offers, including its psychological testing, therapy, clinic-based outpatient care and behavioral health home care, the release noted.

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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