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3 Behavioral Health Programs That Work

By Jennifer Thew RN  
   August 16, 2018

Want to improve mental health screening, access to care, and emergency department length of stay? These organizations have done it. 

Recent suicide deaths of celebrities have pushed the topic of mental illness into the public eye. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are purported to have dealt with behavioral health issues for years, and they are not alone.   

For many Americans, living with behavioral health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse is the norm.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2014 an estimated 43.6 million—or 18.1% of U.S. adults aged 18 or older—experienced any form of mental illness. That same year, about 4% of U.S. adults, nearly 10 million, had serious mental illness.

To address behavioral health issues, hospitals and health systems across the country are working , in a variety of ways, to improve and expand access to behavioral health services.

Here are three HealthLeaders articles on programs focusing on behavioral health needs.

1. Nurse Suicide Is Real. Don't Ignore It.

Suicide is an issue for patients and healthcare workers alike. It's estimated that between 300 to 400 physicians die from suicide in the U.S. each year. Though national data on nurse suicide rates is lacking, that doesn't mean it isn't an issue, says Judy E. Davidson, DNP, RN, FCCM, FAAN, a nurse scientist at UC San Diego Health.

"We had nurse suicides in our own workforce, and when we started talking to people, we found that many knew someone who had a nurse suicide in their organization. So, it wasn’t just us," she says.

After more than one nurse suicide occurred at UCSD Health, the organization piloted an expansion of the Healer Education, Assessment and Referral program to nurses.

The program provides suicide risk screening through an anonymous, encrypted, online format. If a nurse is high risk for suicide, a counselor contacts him or her through the encrypted system and invites the nurse to come for counseling. In the first six months of the program, 172 took the screening and 43% were found to be at high risk. 

2. Dell Children's Offers 'Revolutionary' Mental Health Model

The newly opened Grace Grego Maxwell Mental Health Unit located at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas is designed to provide comprehensive care and enhanced access to pediatric behavioral health patients.

"It's a best-practice model of a care system for integrated mental health services. We provide a holistic approach to treating children with mental disorders," says Sonia Krishna, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Dell Children's.

In addition to the inpatient care unit, the medical center offers behavioral healthcare in an outpatient clinic, intensive outpatient program, and a partial hospitalization program.

3. This Nurse Leader Cut LOS by 40% in the Emergency Department

After cuts to the state of Illinois' mental health budget and the closing of six of Chicago's 12 city-run mental health clinics, Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago saw more patients with behavioral health issues seeking treatment in the ED.

On any given day there could be up to seven behavioral health patients in the ED, and many of the uninsured patients were waiting three to four days for transfer to an inpatient unit.

After Ajimol Lukose, DNP, RN-BC, nursing director at the hospital, developed a safe care delivery model to improve care quality and reduce behavioral health patients' length of stay in the ED, the organization saw a 40% reduction in ED LOS among uninsured behavioral health patients.

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.


The World Health Organization reports that mental health issues and substance abuse are the leading cause of disability worldwide.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some $193 billion per year in workplace earnings is lost due to untreated mental illness.

Adults living with serious mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than other Americans, largely due to treatable medical conditions.

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