Cone Health program helps mental health patients

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It's been busy at Cone Health's Behavioral Health Hospital.

Since last year, about 26 mental health patients have been brought directly to the hospital instead of to an emergency room.

"If we get them here first, they get on medications faster, they get to see doctors, psychiatrists faster," said Cone Health Clinical Nurse Manager Shawn Taylor.

Last November, Cone Health and Guilford County EMS formed the Advanced Paramedics Program.

On an emergency call, if a paramedic sees there's nothing medically wrong with a patient, the program allows them to take the patient straight to a mental health facility where they're treated right away.

“They can get a rapid assessment by people who are trained in behavioral health," said Dr. Melanie Belfi, an emergency physician with Cone Health.

About 15 percent of calls made to Guilford County EMS are mental health-related, according to Guilford County EMS Training Supervisor Jenna Tuttle.

Belfi says oftentimes mental health patients are waiting for hours in emergency departments.

"Emergency departments are full of chaos, they're loud," Belfi said. "It can escalate their behavior."

Paramedics in the program also receive 40 hours of crisis intervention training.

"It gives you specific training on how to de-escalate situations," Tuttle said.

It’s a program Belfi says will help patients along with hospitals.

"We see a large number of mental health patients every day in the emergency department,” Belfi said. “We're frequently at full capacity maintaining beds for those patients."

So far, Belfi says the program has been working.

"The patients that we've transported to these facilities have done really well," Belfi said.