Psychiatric Emergency Services approved by Nebraska Medicine Board

Howard Liu, M.D., M.B.A., Chair of the UNMC Department of Psychiatry

In fall 2020, UNMC and Nebraska Medicine will open an Adult Psychiatric Emergency Service (PES) to help patients experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Adult PES will be a separate emergency room staffed by psychiatrists, advanced practice professionals, psychiatrically-trained nurses, psychiatric social workers, and patient care technicians.  The state-of-the-art facility will be a 24/7 and 365-day per week unit which will safely and compassionately care for individuals with a behavioral health emergency. This service for patients in psychiatric crisis will be located in the former Clarkson Hospital Emergency Department.

The Adult PES will treat all patients, consistent with Nebraska Medicine’s organizational mission to transform lives for all individuals and communities. It will not deny treatment to any individual based on insurance, behavioral presentation or history of past admissions.  Patients may walk in or may be transported by ambulance or law enforcement, and the unit will specialize in adults with both behavioral and medical issues.  It will work closely with existing inpatient psychiatry units and other behavioral health resources in the region.

Nationally, emergency room visits related to mental health and substance-use issues increased more than 44 percent between 2006 and 2014.  Currently, one in every eight visits to an emergency department in the United States involves a patient with a psychiatric or substance use presentation.

“Many of these patients wait hours or even days for transfer to inpatient psychiatric facilities. And this problem is only getting worse,” said Dr. Howard Liu, Chair of the UNMC Psychiatry Department. “We’ve seen a huge increase in mental health and substance use visits to our emergency department over the past four years.”

According to Dr. David Cates, Vice Chair of Clinical Services of the UNMC Psychiatry Department and Behavioral Health Director, Nebraska Medicine, “from 2015 to 2019, we saw nearly an 80 percent increase in people with a psychiatric crisis coming to our emergency department, and had more than 3000 behavioral health emergency visits last year alone.”

This initiative was led by a joint steering committee including:

  • Psychiatry department members David Cates, Ashish Sharma, Howard Liu, Steve Ayers, Rebecca Wysoske and Jeanne Lincoln
  • Emergency medicine department members Mike Wadman, Wes Zeger, Suzanne Watson, and Amy Mead
  • Nebraska Medicine leaders Cory Shaw, Stephanie Daubert,  Julie Lazure, Tom Macy, Bill Koile, Jen Sparrock, Geri Schmid, Lynda Payton, Mary Jo Brummel, and Jana Danielson
  • Facilities leaders Jennifer Bartholomew and Nate Adams
  • U. of Michigan consultant Dr. Victor Hong
  • UNMC Security Leader Charlotte Evans
  • Peer consultants Jennifer Hazulka and Kenneth Timmerman

The facility will operate in partnership with Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare and seek input from a Community Advisory Board with over 20 first responder agencies, county leaders, mental health nonprofits, and behavioral health provider organizations.  “The vision is to maximize collaboration with the community to prevent crises from escalating further,” stated Dr. Liu.  “No organization can manage the rising behavioral health needs of Nebraska alone.  We need a sustained commitment from partners to ensure access to safe and compassionate care for every family member.”

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