New emergency department will bolster mental health care

Full of bright fluorescent lights, noise and staff rushing to save lives, an emergency department (ED) is far from calming. Add a long wait to the mix and many of us are feeling uncomfortable, frustrated and exhausted by the time it’s our turn to be seen. 

For patients with mental health concerns, this hectic environment can also worsen their symptoms. If their physical health is stable, they often face lengthy waits as staff tend to life-threatening injuries, and many choose to leave without being treated.  

“They are among the most likely to leave the ED without being seen,” says Jessica Fryk, ED program manager at the Misericordia Community Hospital. “Usually, when someone comes to the ED with mental health concerns, they are in the most acute phase of their illness. Having too much stimulation like lights and loud noises as staff deal with high acuity patients around them can be overwhelming.”

But when the Misericordia’s new ED opens in 2023, patients can connect with mental health specialists more quickly and receive care in a private, peaceful environment tailored to their needs. After speaking to the triage nurse, patients with mental health needs can go straight to the mental health area with a team of mental health specialists and eight private rooms rather than staying in the ED’s main waiting area.

“If you’re already ill and vulnerable, sitting outside a trauma room can make symptoms worse,” says Leah McBride, program manager for mental health at the Misericordia. “In the new ED, they’ll be in a nice therapeutic and quiet area and surrounded by clinicians who specialize in mental health.”

Since mental health patients may spend several days in the ED as they wait for an inpatient care space, the Misericordia’s mental health and ED teams were heavily consulted about the design of the new space to ensure the best possible experience for patients. 

“This new design means patients will be better served in their surroundings,” says Jillian Lyons, registered psychiatric nurse at the Misericordia ED. “You have that privacy option so that you can sit with the patient and really get to those key issues that they may not disclose in the hallway or open area. When you have some very personal or intimate things going on, those private areas allow us to discuss.”

Along with private rooms where patients can be fully transparent with their care teams, the mental health area will be quieter and have more natural light. Patients will also find some unexpected comforts throughout the space, including secure access to the outdoors.

“We wanted to make sure it doesn’t look or feel like a psychiatric ward,” Jessica says. “Patients have access to recliners, tables, a nook and even a courtyard to allow for a more comfortable stay.”

Many of these special features, including the secure courtyard, a bariatric shower, a nourishment area and a family lounge with refreshments, were made possible by the Covenant Foundation’s commitment to raise $2.6 million for the new ED.

Plentiful meeting rooms will also facilitate connections between patients and support professionals, including social workers, transition co-ordinators and detox specialists. A larger videoconferencing room will also allow care teams and family members to collaborate. 

Misericordia staff are looking forward to serving mental health patients in the new ED space when it opens in 2023, streamlining their journey and caring for them in an environment that promotes healing and well-being.

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