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Local emergency rooms to get mental health expert

A few local emergency rooms are getting an upgrade in mental health services.

The emergency rooms at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Twin Cities Hospital will now feature a full-time mental health expert.

SLO County is teaming up with Twin Cities Community Hospital and Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center to help screen patients with mental illnesses that come into emergency rooms.

The county says people dealing with a psychiatric crisis will be able to get the services they need faster.

“Our job here in the ER is to figure out what a patient needs and to get them that care as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Cinnamon Redd, Director of the Twin Cities Hospital Emergency Department.

A trained county employee will be stationed at either hospital for 40 hours a week.

Dr. Redd says it will help the ER run more efficiently.

“They are going to be seen quicker, the evaluations are going to be more prompted and timely and get them where they need to go next,” added Dr. Redd.

Next steps could mean medication support, and drug and alcohol counseling among other outpatient services.

SLO County’s Behavioral Health Department says its seen a 30 percent increase year after year in people coming to emergency rooms when they are having a psychiatric crisis.

“There are physical health disorders that can mimic psychiatric disorders so we want to make sure they don’t have any of those and that’s why they go to emergency rooms,” said Anne Robin, SLO County Behavioral Health Administrator.

In the past, hospitals would have to share specialized mental health workers and because of that, Dr. Redd said staff was spread thin.

“They were doing a great job but they were running from hospital to hospital and that would often result in 2 to 3-hour delays for the patients to be seen,” said Dr. Redd.

However, since the program started in October, Dr. Redd said she’s seen a decrease in psychiatric hospital stays.

The county is working with a private contractor, Sierra Mental Wellness Group, to pay the wages of these new positions while also billing Medi-Cal.

“It’s a really perfect private-public match where the hospital is providing the funding up front and then what we can bill insurance for we do,” added Robin.

The county is working with other hospitals in the county to see how they will best manage patients with mental illness.

If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, you can visit an ER or call the 24/7, confidential SLO Mental Health Hotline at 800-783-0607.

Megan Healy

Megan Healy

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