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June 16, 2004                                                                                                        See below

 STATE AGENCIES PARTNER TO EASE EMERGENCY ROOM OVERCROWDING
Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Mental Health form
crisis stabilization partnership to move patients from ER to psychiatric facilities

COLUMBIA ­-- A new partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Mental Health (DMH) will ease the strain on emergency rooms (ER) caused by behavioral health patients who cannot be moved to a proper treatment facility because of a lack of beds.  Through the arrangement, DMH will fund over 70 new treatment beds across the state, and DHHS will fund law enforcement and medical teams to assist in handling crisis situations involving behavioral health patients.

“This partnership represents the positive results that can be achieved for the people of this state when a cabinet and non-cabinet agency work cooperatively to solve real-world problems,” said Robert M. Kerr, Director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Emergency rooms throughout South Carolina have recently been required to house behavioral health patients because beds in treatment facilities were not available.  The result is two-fold.  Behavioral health patients do not receive the psychiatric treatment they need in a timely fashion, and other patients with emergency medical needs are waiting longer for treatment.

The partnership aims to ease this ER burden, and Department of Mental Health Director George Gintoli said his agency “is excited about the benefits this partnership offers for our state’s behavioral health and hospital communities.”

Through the partnership, which also draws on the expertise of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-South Carolina (NAMI-SC), a non-profit mental health advocacy organization:

  • DMH will open, fund, and continuously operate over 70 new beds to treat these patients.
  • DMH will employ crisis emergency teams composed of a psychiatrist and other licensed mental health professionals to assess, diagnose, triage, and refer patients waiting in the rooms to alternate placements including the new beds.
  • DMH will continue discussions with NAMI-SC about providing Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement officers. This national model, developed in Memphis, decreases the rate of officer injuries and arrests of the mentally ill by properly training officers in mental health issues and de-escalation techniques.

Governor Sanford praised the effort.  “Using creative, constructive and collaborative thinking to solve our state's challenges is what this administration is all about," said Sanford.  "By working across agency lines, DHHS and DMH have come up with a solution to a problem our state has grappled with for years – an over-reliance on emergency room treatment."

Dave Almeida, Executive Director of NAMI-SC, said “We very much appreciate the spirit of this partnership.  The Department of Health and Human Services' willingness to assist the Department of Mental Health during this crisis goes well beyond the call of duty."

CONTACTS :

DMH – John Hutto, (803) 898-8584 office

DHHS – Bryan Kost, (803) 898-2865 office, (803) 429-3201 cell

NAMI – SC – Dave Almeida, (803) 546-6379 cell