EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 4, 2013

Psychiatric, substance abuse units on hospital agenda

Spokesman: New services will make emergency department run better

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — Merrimack Valley Hospital plans to open a psychiatric treatment unit and a short-term detox unit for people dealing with substance abuse.

According to a hospital spokesman, the plan is pending approval from the state. The hospital hopes to open the two units early next year.

Merrimack Valley Hospital, which is licensed for 105 beds, currently operates a 17-bed geriatric psychiatry unit for people with illnesses such as dementia.

Hospital spokesman Christopher Murphy said one of the proposed new units is an adult in-patient area for the treatment of acute psychiatric illnesses such as depression. The unit will offer 10 single-patient rooms and will be staffed by doctors, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and mental health counselors working as a team.

Murphy said the state and the region does not have enough beds for these kinds of patients.

“When you add a service to a hospital, you want to add a service that the community needs,” he said.

Having this specialized unit will help relieve pressure on the hospital’s emergency room, Murphy said.

“If you have a lot of people who come to the emergency department for psychiatric care, you must wait to transfer to a place with an available bed,” he said. “That could be immediate or that could take time. Having this unit means (if there is an open bed) you can get into a bed more quickly, freeing up space in the emergency department for other patients and also providing quicker care for the psychiatric patients. More beds means that process would be faster.”

The second planned unit is a 14-bed Level IV medically managed detox program. Level IV is highest level of medical care patients need as they go through the process of withdrawing from substances such as opiates or alcohol, Murphy said.

The program would be for a short stay, an average of three or four days, he said.

People admitted to this unit would include those whose medical status, such as a heart condition, puts them at risk during detox and require medical management through the process, and those whose addiction is so lengthy and so severe that they require medical intervention.

“It could be any preexisting condition that could pose a risk factor,” Murphy said. “Typically, you go through detox in this inpatient setting then when you are medically able to, you leave the hospital and join an outpatient program of meetings and therapy. The intent is to get them on the road to recovery.”

The detox unit would be staffed by doctors, psychiatrists consulting on the detox protocols, nurses, social workers and substance abuse counselors.

“Group and individual therapy would be part of the process,” Murphy said.

Patients would typically be referred to this unit by doctors, social workers, substance abuse counselors and others who recommend in-patient treatment.