Minnesota Hospital Association


March 08, 2017

From hospitals to neighborhoods, stepping up for mental health

HealthEast conducted its second community health needs assessment in FY 2015, including Ramsey, Dakota and Washington counties. Mental health was identified as a priority health concern by all stakeholder groups for the HealthEast assessment and in assessments completed by the three local public health departments. HealthEast took a multifaceted approach in responding to this need, improving access to mental health services through expanded inpatient and emergency department services, as well as community-led, culturally appropriate programs with community partners.

Conversations about mental health, increased environmental stress and ways to help people build resilience are changing and deepening. As a result, stigmas long associated with mental illness are beginning to fade. Within this changing context, HealthEast is taking an expansive approach to meeting growing mental health needs in the Twin Cities East Metro area.

“We want to provide a broad spectrum of services to ensure that our neighbors receive appropriate mental health treatment, have resilience-building resources and experience abundant mental well-being,” said HealthEast Chief Operating Officer Cathy Barr.

Inpatient expansion, Behavioral Emergency Care
An expansion of HealthEast’s inpatient mental health capacity is a cornerstone of the effort. At St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown St. Paul, HealthEast opened 10 new high-acuity adult mental health beds at the end August 2016. The remodeled wing has state-of-the-art safety and security features, plus large windows, colorful walls and a calming, non-clinical feel. 

This was Phase I of a major expansion project. In summer 2017, an additional 27 inpatient mental health beds will come online at St. Joseph’s. Fifteen of the Phase II beds are for adults. Twelve rooms on a different floor and unit are being specially designed for geriatric psychiatric patients.

All told, St. Joseph’s is adding 37 new inpatient mental health beds – bringing the hospital’s total mental health beds to 105 – and will be able to serve 1,500 more patients annually.

“There is a great need for additional inpatient mental health beds across Minnesota and the nation,” said John Kvasnicka, M.D., HealthEast’s vice president of medical affairs. “This expansion helps meet that need, and reduce the pressure on emergency rooms where many of these patients have experienced longs waits for a mental health room to become available.”

In December 2015, as another way to better serve mental health patients and relieve emergency room pressure, HealthEast opened its four-bed Behavioral Emergency Care (BEC) unit at St. Joseph’s. The unit can hold up to four mental health patients and provides a comfortable, therapeutic environment. In its first year of operation, nearly 1,000 patients were seen in the BEC, and the unit has reduced the number of patients who left the St. Joseph’s emergency room without being seen by 20 per month. 

“BEC nurses and staff members have mental health training and experience,” Dr. Kvasnicka said. “Medication adjustments and other treatment begins immediately and occupational therapists can keep patients engaged in activities. There is comfortable, inviting space for gathering and even group therapy sessions. Some patients can be discharged directly from the BEC.”

In FY 2016, HealthEast provided $4.6 million in subsidized inpatient mental health services to benefit the community.

Community-based, culturally appropriate mental health care
In addition, HealthEast family medicine physician Shana Sniffen, M.D., has played a leading role with the Karen Community Chemical Dependency Collaboration, a coalition of organizations including the Karen Organization of Minnesota that recently launched a culturally appropriate chemical dependency group treatment program for Karen community members. HealthEast is a coalition member and many program participants are patients at HealthEast Clinic-Roselawn. In FY 2016, this program reached over 300 Karen youth, church leaders and community leaders through community education presentations. The collaboration will continue in 2017.