The first psychiatric emergency department in Central Texas is expected to open at the University Medical Center Brackenridge in spring 2014, Central Health and Seton Healthcare Family announced Dec. 3.
Dr. Kari Wolf, vice president of medical affairs for Seton, said the department will provide better care to psychiatric crisis patients because the ER will be equipped with psychiatrists at all times. She said that no one emergency facility is fully staffed to address the needs of people in a mental health crisis.
"Right now we don't have a good place for people in psychiatric crisis to go," Wolf said. "People end up scattered to multiple locations in the community. There is a shortage of resources throughout the community, and so that gets exacerbated when you're trying to divide people into lots of different locations."
Construction began Nov. 11 on the 17,600-square-foot department that will have 17 beds and is designed for adults age 18 and older in psychiatric crises, according to Seton officials. The department will treat ambulatory treat and release patients, and acute patients who are held involuntarily or who need to be transferred to a higher level of care.
An enclosed patio and a common room are also included in the department. The psychiatric department will be located on the second floor of Brackenridge in the former labor and delivery department space, according to Seton officials.
Wolf said Seton will hire about 22 new employees for the department, including psychiatrists, psychiatric family medicine and advanced practice nurses, social workers and clinical assistants.
Constructing a psychiatric emergency department is part of State Sen. Kirk Watson's, D-Austin, agenda to improve health care in Travis County. Two years ago, Watson developed his "10 Goals in 10 Years" plan to improve wellness. The list includes behavioral and mental health improvements.
"Today we take a major step on another one of those goals," Watson said. "That is the goal of providing emergency services that we currently do not have in the area of behavioral health. Today is a day where we take a stand in an area that we have neglected. And in an area, that we in my view, have a strong, moral imperative to throw out that neglect and affirmatively act."
The $4.2 million emergency department is funded by local and federal matching funds under the 1115 waiver program.