Nebraska to develop registry to connect patients with psychiatric beds in emergencies

When a patient calls a mental health provider or arrives at an emergency room in crisis, providers may have to call around to find an available inpatient psychiatric bed.

That can take time, and during that time, the patient may not be getting the treatment needed.

Nebraska now is among 23 states — and the only one in the Midwest — selected to participate in a national project to develop registries intended to help get such patients into beds more quickly.

A centralized, real-time registry also would help those in the behavioral health field figure out what might be keeping patients from getting a needed bed quickly, said Sheri Dawson, director of the behavioral health division of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

A hospital, for instance, might have beds available but not have enough psychiatrists available, she said. Or the mix of patients might limit the number a facility can accept.

The intent, however, won’t be to find fault.

“We’re going to come at it from a quality-improvement standpoint,” Dawson said. “We really just want to have the data and (focus on) how can we find solutions to overcome whatever those barriers are.”

Each state participating in the project received a $150,000 grant. The program is jointly funded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. Dawson serves as secretary of the group’s board of directors.

Dawson said eight states already have registries, all based on some type of software. They’ll serve as models for the states involved in the project. Participating states also will have the opportunity to learn from each other.

Nebraska’s registry will be piloted in Region 6, the most populous of the state’s behavioral health regions.

It’s made up of Cass, Dodge, Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties. The pilot program also will be used to help develop a statewide process, Dawson said, although it might function differently in other parts of the state.

The state and Region 6 will develop a work group that will include representatives from both organizations as well as from local emergency departments, hospitals, county attorneys and behavioral health providers. Also included will be people who have experienced the system as patients. The goal is to implement the pilot in Region 6 this summer.

Patti Jurjevich, administrator of Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare, said the project won’t create more beds, but it will give officials a better picture of the need for and use of beds in the community.

Staff at the Spring Center, an inpatient center that closed in 2008, used to periodically call hospitals to track available beds. Jurjevich said her staff can collect such information, but it’s never in real time.

Often, they don’t hear about such issues until a problem is reported.

“It all helps us get a better sense of who is seeking to access those acute care beds in the community,” she said.