On April 29, a dedication ceremony will be held to officially open the new Ascension Seton Psychiatric Emergency Department, located on the north side of University Medical Center Brackenridge. Dr. Kyle Janek, Texas Health and Human Services executive commissioner, will join Texas Sen. Kirk Watson; Dr. Kari Wolf, Ascension Seton vice president of medical affairs for the new facility and director of the Ascension Seton Mind Institute; and Jesús Garza, Ascension Seton president and chief executive officer. Below, Ascension Seton’s top executive discusses the importance of the first Central Texas medical facility specifically designed to treat adults from throughout the community who suffer from psychiatric crises.
By Jesús Garza
The opening of the new Ascension Seton Psychiatric Emergency Department represents a significant step forward for our community. Numerous health care partners in Central Texas, including clinicians, insurance providers and service organizations, are working together to close gaps in our region’s continuum of care – and the lack of a 24/7 mental health facility with a fully trained staff to diagnose and treat behavioral emergencies was one of the biggest gaps of all.
It’s been demonstrated time after time that patient outcomes improve when a health care provider can deliver an entire spectrum of care, rather than provide just a stop-gap, “one size fits all” approach. For behavioral care especially, there are a vast range of options, from outpatient counseling to a secured bed at Ascension Seton Shoal Creek Hospital.
It’s crucial for us to be able to offer a patient the appropriate level of care – not just from a clinical standpoint, but also a financial one. For example, if ongoing outpatient treatment with a trained counselor can avoid a future trip to the emergency department, those counseling sessions take on a value greater than just the help and comfort they gave the patient, because they avoided future costs associated with an unnecessary ED trip – costs that we, as a community, ultimately will bear.
That’s how it works in theory. Unfortunately, the reality is that Central Texas doesn’t have the entire spectrum of behavioral care. This new facility at University Medical Center Brackenridge certainly fills an enormous need, but we must continue to work as partners to build out our continuum of care.
We have very vibrant, robust collaborations within the community, working to find innovative ways to create more outpatient programs. We are working more closely with primary care physicians to coordinate psychiatric treatment. We are conducting groundbreaking research, looking at new models of behavioral care.
Everyone realizes what a big problem behavioral health is: Ascension Seton Shoal Creek treats several thousand inpatients annually and conducts 20,000 more outpatient visits. Within the next two years, the new psychiatric facility at Brack will diagnose and treat 10,500 patients annually – and that capacity doesn’t begin to meet our community’s needs.
It’s also vital to note that a significant portion of the current funding for the psychiatric emergency department is, at this point, finite. Federal dollars pay for a large portion of it. That money is scheduled to end sometime in FY 2016. Ascension Seton and its collaborative partners, including Central Health, already are planning for this reality. In fact, we are figuring out ways to expand our services and treatment options, even as we brace for the possibility of fewer federal dollars.
I place great faith in our community’s ability to work together to solve our health care problems. Since the Daughters of Charity arrived and established the Ascension Seton Infirmary more than a century ago, the people of Austin and Central Texas have been more than willing to share the joys and burdens of health care, shoulder-to-shoulder, with those people who provide it.
This community’s legacy of involvement is defined by generous philanthropy that has helped create so many new Ascension Seton facilities; the substantial commitment our doctors, nurses and other associates make to deliver care both in and out of the hospital; and the vision of the voters who in 2006 created a health care district and in 2012 voted to fund the new Dell Medical School and innovative local medical initiatives.
We are creating a broad urban health care system that will bring Austin more in line with what is available in larger metropolitan areas. But while we may not yet have a continuum of behavioral services equal to Boston or Baltimore, Austin’s level of community involvement is the envy of urban planners everywhere.
We have a reputation as a city that can bring an incredible focus and creative energy to something … if we get behind it.