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BJC, SSM working to re-open emergency psychiatric services

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The Metropolitan St. Louis Psychiatric Center on Delmar Blvd. in St. Louis.

Almost exactly a year ago, the state of Missouri shuttered the emergency room at the Metropolitan St. Louis Psychiatric Center because of cost overruns.

Now, officials with BJC and SSM - two of the largest health care systems in the state - say by the end of October, they hope toreplace at least some of that capacity.

The organizations will help operate a 24/7 psychiatric emergency room at the MPC, at 5351 Delmar, plus 16 beds for short-term hospitalizations. BJC and SSM, along with the state, will provide the $2 million needed for operations.

Those 16 beds are less than a third of the short-term space that was available at MPC, says Jim Sanger, the president of SSM Health Care.

"I would not try to convince anyone that this is the final answer," Sanger said. "We need more capacity, but we will be bringing back that emergency room, which we hope will take some of the pressure off hospital emergency rooms."

A patient who needs emergency psychiatric care often spends as much as 20 hours in a hospital ER, says Sanger, and requires much more supervision.

"And commingling behavioral health populations with the regular population is pretty tough, not only on the behavioral health patients but staff and other patients," he said.

Part of the challenge will be adding capacity. MPC shut down partially because of a federal law that prohibits psychiatric hospitals with more than 16 beds from receiving Medicaid payments. Sanger says BJC, SSM and the state are working to secure waivers.

Keith Schafer, the director of the Missouri  Department of Mental Health, which oversees the state's 10 inpatient facilities, issued the following statement about efforts to restart emergency psychiatric care in St. Louis:

"We appreciate SSM Health Care and BJC HealthCare stepping forward to lead the effort to respond to the need for these services within the region. This community and public sector partnership brings the potential for strong clinical mental health crisis services to area citizens, while making the most efficient use of resources," said Keith Schafer, Director of the Department of Mental Health."

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.