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UI psychiatry to open innovative Crisis Stabilization Unit

The Department of Psychiatry is opening a 24-hour Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) specifically designed for people experiencing an emotional crisis or psychiatric emergency. The calm, comfortable, and inviting space will feature reclining chairs instead of hospital beds and a care team dedicated to providing immediate, specialized care.

“Our emergency room is at capacity pretty much all the time, and people with a mental illness are there waiting for a psychiatric bed or treatment,” says Jodi Tate, MD, vice chair for clinical services in psychiatry, who has been leading the effort to create the CSU. “There is a mental health care crisis in our country and in our state, and we don’t have enough services for people who are in crisis.”

There are typically 10 people experiencing a psychiatric issue waiting in the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics Emergency Department at any given time. And as the number of state-funded psychiatric beds has shrunk, some patients are staying in the emergency room for extended periods of time, says Paul Van Heukelom, MD, clinical medical director of the Emergency Department.

“The intense environment of the Emergency Department is not an ideal environment for patients in crisis,” he says. “The new space will allow patients to move to a different, more therapeutic environment with more specialized and dedicated care available.”

The CSU also aims to ease the burden on emergency room staff. Peg Nopoulos, MD, professor and chair of the psychiatry, says the big advantage for patients is the immediate care they’ll receive from a team of psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers.

“Sometimes patients are housed in the emergency room for quite some time and without a lot of interactions” she says. “This is a place that will allow them to get effective and appropriate treatment right away.”

The care team will start by evaluating new patients and then work on a treatment plan that may include medications, therapy, arranging follow-up appointments, or getting them connected to community resources. Some patients may need more care and will be admitted to an inpatient unit, but others may only need a short-term stay in the CSU.   

The unit will be an open, inclusive space lined with reclining chairs. Patients can grab a snack, watch TV, or wash their clothes on the unit. It opens October 15 and is designed to serve up to 12 adults. 

“The ambiance of the unit is very important,” Tate says. “We wanted to create a welcoming, healing, patient-centered environment to help people feel better just by being in a therapeutic space.”

Private rooms will be available for those who need space or time alone, but patients are encouraged to interact with one another and their care team.

“Sometimes interacting with others, especially others who may share some of the same stressors that you’re undergoing, can help patients heal,” Nopoulos says.

This model of care is new to the state and based on the evidence-based emPATH Units created by Scott Zeller, MD. Zeller, who is the vice president of acute psychiatric medicine at CEP America and the former chief of psychiatric emergency services for the Alameda Health System in Oakland, Calif., visited UI Hospitals & Clinics to provide in-depth information and feedback as psychiatry and hospital leaders began planning the unit. These units have shown positive results for patients across the country and have decreased the need for acute psychiatric hospitalization.

“We’ll try to meet the patient where they’re at and meet their needs quickly,” Tate says.

For more information and to tour the new space, join us for the Crisis Stabilization Unit Open House

When: noon to 4:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12

Where: University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, 7710 JPP (Elevator I, Level 7)


Monday, October 1, 2018