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Health care providers partner to provide mental health care

By Elena Watts
Jan. 25, 2014 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 25, 2014 at 7:26 p.m.

Lane Johnson, center, the clinical director at Gulf Bend, talks with health tech Isabella Garcia in the new outpatient extended observation unit at Citizens Medical Center.

A conversation between two Crossroads leaders seated next to each other at a meeting about Medicaid has sparked a partnership that is expected to benefit the community.

Gulf Bend Center and Citizens Medical Center have joined forces to streamline the delivery of health care services with a system that benefits patients, health care providers and taxpayers.

"The most important part of the association between Gulf Bend and Citizens is to set up the foundation for a model of integrated health care with a wholistic view of the needs of the patients," said Dr. Nestor Praderio, geriatric psychiatrist and owner of Psychiatric Consulting Service in Aransas Pass.

Praderio oversees inpatient psychiatric units in Aransas Pass and Corpus Christi and treats patients with mental health issues in the Crossroads by televideo.

At the Medicaid meeting, David Way, associate executive director of Gulf Bend Center, shared his ideas about integrative health care with Stephen Thames, hospital administrator for Citizens Medical Center, to secure a letter of support for his proposal.

Thames offered more than his endorsement. He offered hospital space and medical professionals.

The $1.2 million project, funded by a Texas Department of State Health Services grant and an in-kind match from Citizens Medical Center, began in January.

Citizens Medical Center provides space on the sixth floor of the hospital for the six-person outpatient extended observation unit as well as a nursing staff.

In turn, Gulf Bend Center provides licensed counselors and social workers to assess and treat patients with behavioral health issues. Diagnoses and treatment by a psychiatrist are available as needed by televideo.

Short-term and long-term treatment plans include counseling and symptom management. The average stay in the unit is 13 hours, but patients can stay as long as 48 hours.

Emergency rooms and jails have served patients with behavioral health issues for lack of better alternatives, Way said.

"Patients would spend three to four days in the ER or on the floor without care - just supervision - until we could locate a psychiatric bed somewhere else," Thames said.

Hospitals were not designed to take care of the mental piece of the health care equation, Thames said.

Many of the patients' crises are situational, which would not require admission to a psychiatric unit if other safe, structured options existed, Way said.

"About 94 percent of hospitalizations for mental health issues are preventable," said Donald Polzin, executive director of Gulf Bend Center.

The outpatient extended observational unit reduces costly emergency room admissions and avoidable hospital admissions and readmissions, Thames said.

The goal is to have first responders bypass the emergency room entirely by delivering patients with behavioral issues to the crisis assessment center, Way said.

The crisis assessment center operates from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Gulf Bend Center and in the hospital's observational unit the remainder of the day.

"We want this to be a model for integrative health care for the state," Way said.

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