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5 Ways to Ensure a Better Experience for Behavioral Health Patients

By HCPro Staff  
   June 21, 2016

Hospitals are finding ways to accommodate patients with mental health needs while making sure patients and facilities remain safe.

A version of this article was originally published in Hospital Safety Insider.

Hospitals have been seeing a steady increase in the number of behavioral health patients over the last 20 years or so.

To meet the needs of behavioral health patients while making sure their facilities remain safe, new hospitals are being designed with features aimed at the comfort of these patients.

Older hospitals that can't afford drastic overhauls are finding wasy to safely accommodate the influx of behavioral health patients by changing their triage protocols and making treatment rooms more flexible. One goal is to speed up the process of getting patients to a provider so patients are not subjected to long waits.

A few modifications to current environment and protocols,can enhance quality of care while also improving security.

5  Success Keys

1. Decrease wait times. This is the kind of advice that can benefit any facility, but is particularly apt to facilities serving a population with behavioral health needs. Experts say one of the biggest factors behind violent incidents involving behavioral health patients is a long wait that increases anxiety. Something as simple as installing a digital clock listing wait times, can calm nerves.

Take a look at what is causing the backup in the first place. Chances are it starts in the triage area of the ER. Are triage nurses and front-end staff overwhelmed? Maybe it's time to hire some extra help.

Even better, perhaps it's time to get triage staff out into the waiting room to see patients before they are called.

Mental Health Programs Gaining Momentum

2. Design flexible spaces. The key to being flexible with  patients is to be flexible with  treatment spaces. To avoid the risk of putting patients in spaces where they may be able to harm themselves, redesign treatment rooms so that they can accommodate everyone, safely.

3. Make the environment friendly.  Many hospitals are creating behavioral health units that boast high ceilings, open areas, and large windows that allow more natural light to come in. The result is friendly, therapeutic places that can have a calming effect on patients.

Behavioral health units are being designed with "wander space," to provide visitors, such as elderly patients with dementia or other behavioral health patients, a group area to walk off their energy as opposed to sitting around.


Some hospital waiting rooms are being designed with a living room feel, with comfortable furniture and fireplaces in some cases, as well as shower and video game areas to create a less-threatening environment for those who may be subjected to longer stays.

4. Train staff to respond to the right things. In the event there is a violent incident, staff will be instrumental in keeping it from escalating. Preparedness is key.

The problem is, most workers in hospitals are not trained in de-escalation techniques and other self-defense strategies that could stop a small issue from becoming a major incident.

Instead, experts say, they often let such issues develop into larger problems that can result in violent attacks and a response from security, giving the illusion of a police state and raising the likelihood of injuries.

5. Eliminate potential dangers. Certain aspects of patient treatment rooms can be dangerous.

Items such as plastic trash bags can be used as ways to suffocate oneself; high door hinges can used as a means of hanging. Other dangers include glass in picture frames that can be broken and used as weapons, or needles, or anything else that can be used by patients to hit or hang themselves.

While no one likes to think of these scenarios, removing such items from the environment reduces the chance that they can be used in a violent incident, and at the same time, increases the number of rooms that can be used for all patients.


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