Center for Advanced Practice


Responding to a Behavioral Health Crisis: Applying a New Care Model in the Emergency Department.

Publication Title

Pediatric emergency care

Document Type


PubMed ID



OBJECTIVES: Emergency department (ED) visits for behavioral health (BH) emergencies continue to rise, and institutions across the country encounter barriers and struggle to put BH processes in place to address their needs. After learning of an unanticipated closure of a local psychiatric crisis response center (CRC), our ED implemented quality improvement interventions to respond to an acute surge of BH patients.

METHODS: Interventions included an enhanced BH database, the role of social workers as extenders, shared electronic health record documentation, increased staffing, clinical pathway updates, and processes to improve communication. We aimed to develop a care model to maintain safe care with timely evaluation and patient disposition despite an anticipated surge of ED patients.

RESULTS: After the CRC closure, 7383 patients met our cohort definition over 18 months, whereas 4326 patients met the cohort definition in the 18 months prior the CRC closure. Of the total patients seen in the study period, 42% were evaluated by the ED team with psychiatry and social work, and the median length of stay for discharged patients evaluated by this team decreased from 4.2 hours to 3.5 hours after CRC closure.

CONCLUSIONS: A multifaceted approach allowed our ED to successfully respond to an unexpected surge of BH patients. Other institutions may be able to apply a population health and quality improvement approach when addressing the rising prevalence of ED BH visits. Future studies and practices should explore the optimal role of the acute care setting in the continuum of care of these patients.

Funding Information



Emergency Service, Hospital, Humans, Length of Stay, Mental Disorders, Patient Discharge, Psychiatry



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