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Take a look inside Covenant's new mental health space in Waterloo

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - 8/2/2018

Aug. 01--WATERLOO -- It's only four beds -- and those beds are just temporary to take the strain off of Covenant Medical Center's emergency department.

But for families whose loved ones are struggling with mental or behavioral health issues, those four beds may be a lifesaver.

That's why Covenant officials decided to turn their gift shop storage room -- with $250,000 in help from the Otto Schoitz Foundation -- into a $646,000 expansion of the behavioral health rooms in the adjacent emergency department in Waterloo.

The four rooms -- joined by a common area with seating, television, common bathroom and 24/7 access to nurses and staff -- take a bit of pressure off of the emergency department for those types of patients, said Chris Latta, director of behavioral health and emergency services at Covenant.

"We recognized behavioral health patients are increasing coming to the emergency department seeking care," he said.

On a tour of the new rooms during an open house Tuesday morning -- open to patients this coming Monday -- Latta noted each of the four bedrooms are spacious and clutter-free, and allow patients to open the door into a common area, use the bathroom and watch TV.

He contrasted that with the emergency department's four current spaces for behavioral health patients. A garage door can close over medical equipment to prevent harm, but that action also makes the room smaller. Patients also can't leave the room.

"This is very much a safer space for this type of patient, but you get confined very quickly," Latta said, closing the doors to demonstrate. "Even your most well-adjusted patient is not going to do well in this space days later."

The new beds still are temporary until a patient is placed into a more permanent treatment area, whether that's one of the mental health beds at Covenant or elsewhere in the Cedar Valley or around the state. Usually, patients are placed within hours, but if they're admitted on a weekend, it can take longer, Latta said. Around 30 to 40 patients with those issues seek care at Covenant's emergency department each week, officials said.

Covenant officials began thinking about how to address the mental health bed shortage around two years ago, and modeled the new space after a similar one they toured at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines. Cameras cover every inch of the space, and at least two employees -- a nurse and a technician, for example -- will be behind glass monitoring patients around the clock.

"At the end of the day, this organization is very proactive in looking for better ways to care for this population," Latta said. "We want to start treatment sooner, and we want people to get help and feel safe."


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