By Marielle Mohs

EDINA, Minn. (WCCO) — When some Minnesotans experience a mental health crisis they’re sent to the emergency room with all the other trauma patients, but now one Twin Cities hospital is changing that.

EmPATH, which stands for Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment, and Healing, service is a brand-new facility opening up at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital at 7 a.m. on Monday. It’s the first of its kind in Minnesota and one of only a few in the country. It will treat anyone experiencing a mental health emergency or crisis over the age of 18, no appointments are taken.

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“It’s about as excited as I’ve been in my career,” said Lew Zeidner, assistant director for Clinical Triage and Transition Services at M Health. He’s part of the trailblazing staff addressing the mental health crisis in our country through this clinic.

M Health turned an emergency room hospital space into a calming, therapeutic living-room-like environment, with TVs and reclining chairs, for those experiencing a mental health crisis.

“As you can see the space is very different from traditional mental health care,” said Jake John, service line director for EmPATH.

When mental health patients need a more isolated, calming effect, they’ll have access to one of four sensory rooms, where they can sit on comfortable bean bag chair and control the music in the room, as well as the color of the mood lighting.

“In fact we don’t have a seclusion room and we don’t plan on using restraints in this space,” said John.

Before a facility like this existed, mental health patients would be assessed in just a few hours in the emergency department, and in that short time, they would likely be hospitalized.

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M Health Fairview’s emergency department admits roughly 60% of mental health patients to be hospitalized right now. With this new facility, they hope to reduce that to 25-30% of mental health patients hospitalized. The rest of those patients will be treated over 48 hours and given outpatient resources in the comfort of their own home.

“Emergency departments are not set up for mental health. They’re set up for trauma, they’re set up for cardiac care, so as a result it’s a very overstimulating environment,” said Zeidner.

Another benefit: In this new facility, patients will only be seen by mental health specialists.

“They will have access to a psychiatrist 24/7, psychiatric nurses 24/7 and therapists around the clock,” said Zeidner.

Following a year of isolation, unrest and a deadly pandemic, a space like this is needed more than ever.

“It’s perfect timing in so many ways,” said Zeidner.

M Health is planning to open a second EmPATH in 2022 at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. This clinic will also treat children and adolescents, as well as adults.

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You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK. In Minnesota, suicide prevention and mental health crisis services are available 24-hours a day. All you do is text MN to 741-741.

Marielle Mohs