A team-based approach to mental health

March 23, 2017

There is a shortage of mental health services available to residents in our state, forcing many in need of mental health treatment to be boarded in community hospitals. Recognizing that a coordinated approach is needed to address our state’s shortage of these services, WSHA convened a group of Puget Sound area hospitals to figure out how to increase access to care.

Among health systems participating in the collaboration was Swedish Health Services, and through it came the opening of a behavioral health unit at Swedish Ballard in Seattle. The unit cares for voluntary and involuntary patients ages 18 and older. The unit opened in May 2016 with 14 beds, slowly working its way toward a fully operational capacity of 22 beds. The unit filled up almost immediately and has consistently been at 90 percent capacity or above since.

One of the big advantages to the unit is it allows patients to receive physical and mental health care while at a single facility, eliminating the need to travel to different locations. Dr. Arpan Waghray, system medical director, behavioral health for Swedish, says this proximity to both kinds of care is important, given how intertwined physical and mental health can be.

Among those who have benefitted are new mothers suffering from more severe post-partum conditions, like psychosis, as they are easily able to transfer between the obstetrics team and the mental health providers. Other patients may come to the unit in need of mental health care while also battling a substance abuse disorder, Dr. Waghray says. Some voluntary patients also come to the unit specifically for electroconvulsive therapy, in which patients are placed under anesthesia and given small electrical currents through the brain, triggering a brief seizure that can quickly change brain chemistry and reverse symptoms of mental illness.

The unit’s design does away with the traditional clinical feel and instead creates a healing environment. Patients are placed in greater control, with rooms that allow patients to adjust lighting or control music, which can be soothing. One nurse is assigned just to managing the healing environment for patients.

Dr. Waghray says providers also hope to offer virtual court visits, allowing those who have been involuntarily committed to more easily attend a court hearing. Swedish then partners with Sound Mental Health to ensure a seamless transition for patients after discharge.

“Our goal is to treat patients when they are in crisis, help them stabilize and set them up for success,” Dr. Waghray says.

Expanding access to mental health treatment is one of WSHA’s top legislative priorities. Click here to learn more about the behavioral health unit at Swedish Ballard. (Tim Pfarr)


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