Local News

Rex to offer people with mental issues option other than ER

Posted July 10

— There's something new taking shape inside Raleigh's UNC Rex Hospital – the behavioral health holding area.

It's designed to treat mental health patients who are typically treated in the emergency room, and it is being built thanks to a $2.5 million gift from an anonymous donor.

​The separate behavioral health zone will include eight private rooms, an open common area and more windows to let in natural light, hospital officials said when they announced plans for the expansion earlier this year.

It’s designed to improve the care, support and healing of patients and the safety of all visitors and staff. The holding area will be adjacent to the emergency department.

Chad Lefteris, the vice president of operations at UNC Rex, said emergency rooms aren't the best place for anyone who may be dealing with a behavioral health issue.

"Emergency rooms are loud, busy," Lefteris said. "(I) don't even know where the light switches are. The lights are always on. We never close."

Construction began on the space in April, and it's expected to be done by the end of the year.

Ann Akland, with advocacy group NAMI-Wake County, said many patients treated in emergency departments shouldn't end up there, but "too often do."

Sometimes, a wait for space in a psychiatric hospital can take days.

"To get into a state psychiatric hospital, it's like a five-day wait on average," Akland said.

Akland said the real crisis is the lack of beds for mentally ill patients.

"It's not good. There are some bright spots, but all of the bright spots are over capacity," she said.

Akland says Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, a state-funded organization that manages care for the mentally ill, had plans for a new crisis center in Wake County that were scrapped when state lawmakers cut mental health funding in their $23 billion budget.

While UNC Rex still won't have any designated beds for treating mental health patients, Akland said the new holding area will help.

"It's wonderful to have a better situation in the emergency department, but we need treatment close to home in Wake County," she said.


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