Fairbanks hospital plans ER redesign to boost mental health services

FAIRBANKS - A Fairbanks hospital is planning to remodel its emergency room to expand services for people experiencing mental health emergencies.

The Fairbanks Memorial Hospital announced plans Monday to redesign its ER, saying it would add a “24-hour single point of entry for psychiatric services, observation, crisis intervention and stabilization services,” the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The hospital's ER gets one to four patients experiencing a behavioral health or substance abuse crisis on any given day, said Chief Medical Officer Danny Robinette.

"We are trying to figure out how we are going to handle these patients in a safer manner and in a better manner," Robinette said.

Many behavioral health patients have long waits in the ER before they're placed in the hospital's psychiatric unit or elsewhere. The facility has two safe rooms for mental health patients, but more rooms and more services are needed, Robinette said.

The hospital has already hired five social workers specializing in behavioral health, and it has added a fourth psychiatrist position. The social workers will stick with their cases after patients leaves the ER.

Under the previous model, one social worker was assigned to the ER and handled all patients until they left, Robinette said.

The hospital has secured a $2.2 million grant for the project, and the Greater Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation has also committed funding. The project's total cost is not yet known.

Robinette said it’s too early to say when the new mental health stabilization unit will be completed.