MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s a new program at a Twin Cities Emergency Department that is a literal gamechanger, and a totally new way to deal with patients who come in for mental health crises.

From the anxiousness of not knowing to then definitely knowing how bad the COVID-19 crisis was getting, to the disruptions of homeschooling and the disappointments of cancelled weddings and closing restaurants, just about everyone has felt some form of pain over the last few years.

“I would say for most of us — almost all of us — we are a little less functional than we were before the pandemic,” M Health Fairview’s Dr. Lewis Zeidner said.

And he would know. he has 40 years of mental health care experience and helps lead care at Southdale in Edina.

“In mental health care, I think there is ultimately some responsibility that is given to the patient that somehow you’ve done something wrong,” Zeidner said. “I think part of what we are trying to say is these illnesses are no different than cardiac disease.”

(credit: M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital)

He helped launch an EmPATH Center so that fewer mental health patients end up admitted to hospitals.

“This is huge. I have told people this is the most excited I have been in my entire career because this is the most innovative program,” Zeidner said.

EmPATH is different in three ways. When patients come in, they are taken into a comfortable quiet living room setting with big comfy chairs, they are only seen by mental health care specialists, and there is less of a hurry, they can decompress for 48 hours if needed.

It’s been one year since they launched the program, and even they did not see the results they got coming. In just one year, they are now admitting 60% fewer mental health patients.

“It’s that they are able to manage their own crisis and they are feeling better enough to go home,” Zeidner said. “Working with people over a few days (to) help them see their own options and save their own lives.”

The program originated in California; this is the first in Minnesota, and it is taking off. There is now a second EmPATH program in St. Cloud, and M Health Fairview is launching an EmPATH for children in 2023.

(credit: M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital)

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield