The first psychiatric emergency department in Central Texas opened April 29 at University Medical Center Brackenridge.

The 17,600-square-foot department has 17 beds and serves anyone age 18 and older in a psychiatric crisis, such as those at risk for suicide or experiencing a psychotic episode, said Dr. Kari Wolf, Seton Healthcare Family’s vice president of medical affairs.

“We’ve been working for years to bring a psychiatric emergency department to Austin and we’re finally here,” Wolf said. “We all know that there are many gaps in the current health care delivery system. In Central Texas, those gaps are arguably most pronounced in behavioral health. This new service is a shining example of how Seton is partnering with Central Health and others in the Community Care Collaborative to close those gaps and transform our health care delivery system.”

Prior to the facility’s opening, people in psychiatric crisis went to standard emergency rooms, which are not equipped with psychiatric medical staff. The new department, located on the second floor of the hospital, is staffed with psychiatrists, psychiatric family medicine advanced practice nurses, social workers, nurses and clinical assistants.

“Creating this facility [and] assembling the very specialized staff that will work here shows our commitment as a community to creating a continuum of services for care for this population,” said Jess Garza, president and chief executive officer at Seton.

Patients receive a physical and mental assessment upon arrival. The department’s staff treat patients for the crisis at the facility after assessment, unless the patient needs to be treated at the main emergency room for physical injuries or ailments, and in which case they are transferred.

When the department reaches capacity, patients will be referred to regular emergency rooms, according to Seton. Once patients are discharged they are referred to an outpatient or impatient facility or a crisis center. Although the facility cannot treat anyone younger than 18 years old, Seton’s Shoal Creek Hospital can treat minors. Seton’s call center may be reached at 512-324-0000.

Addressing behavioral health needs is one of Sen. Kirk Watson’s, D-Austin, goals for improving health care in Travis County. The $4.2 million emergency department is funded by local and federal matching funds under the 1115 waiver program.

“Health care is about measurement,” said David Pringle, Seton’s vice president of mission integration. “When it comes to care that is going to be provided in this facility, measurement is important because somehow it says that, ‘somebody understands my pain. Somebody understands what’s happening with me and somebody cares.'”

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