It was almost one year ago that staff and patients celebrated the opening of the temporary Mental Health Assessment Unit at Royal University Hospital (RUH) in Saskatoon. Since that time, it has been a helpful asset for patients and care providers in the RUH emergency department, providing patients with emergent mental health needs a quiet, calm place to be treated.
The Mental Health Assessment Unit (MHAU) is an extension of the Royal University Hospital’s (RUH) emergency department.
It’s important to note that the seven-bed space is not its own emergency department specific to mental health patients, or an inpatient unit.
The MHAU is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by two Registered Nurses. Emergency department physicians and psychiatrists provide service to the unit as well. We know how important and beneficial it is to our patients who present with mental health concerns to have an appropriate space to be treated.
On average, the RUH emergency department sees a little more than 160 patients in a 24 hour period. Of those, about 15 will present with emergent mental health concerns.
“We want to ensure that all patients are treated in the most appropriate space possible,” said Lisa Collard, Director of Emergency Services in Saskatoon. For example, a patient who has been in a very serious car accident will need to be treated in the trauma zone and they will be triaged accordingly. Patients presenting with a mental health emergency will likely require a calmer, quieter space to be treated in, and will also be triaged as such, which would likely mean being treated in the Mental Health Assessment Unit.
Why one triage system is important
Many patients presenting to our emergency departments are in the midst of a medical emergency, so it is imperative that they be seen at triage by the nurse who can immediately begin to assess their condition.
“That nurse is able to consult with the patient, understand their symptoms and at times, those symptoms can be both physical and mental. This means that not all patients who present with mental health concerns are best suited to be placed in the MHAU,” said Collard.
The triage process is crucial to ensure we provide an accurate diagnosis, meet all of the patient’s health care needs, and provide treatment in the most appropriate space possible.
How our new emergency department will help meet needs better
Later this year, the new adult emergency department will open at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital. This new emergency space, which will replace the current emergency department, is designed with private assessment rooms, offering patients a quieter, calmer environment.
In addition, the new emergency department is designed to enhance the flow of patients and includes private interview spaces.
What is the future of the Mental Health Assessment Unit?
When the Mental Health Assessment Unit opened in April 2018, it was meant to be a temporary space. We knew that quiet, private spaces appropriate for mental health emergency care were already being designed into the new emergency department. Thanks to the help of the Royal University Hospital Foundation, we were able to build the Mental Health Assessment Unit to ensure patients with emergent mental health concerns had a quiet, calmer assessment and treatment environment prior to the opening of the new space.
“Since the opening of this unit, we know that patients who have been treated there have appreciated the calmer environment and expertise of the health care providers situated there, and the unit has shown us how important it is to have this type of space available for patients who need it,” said Karyn Kawula, Director of Inpatient Mental Health and Addictions Services in Saskatoon.
“It has reinforced the importance of the decision to include private rooms in the design of the new emergency department, as we know these benefit our patients and make a huge difference in the care we are able to provide,” she added.
But once the emergency department is moved to the new space, what will happen to the mental health assessment unit as it currently stands?
The unit is important to us and important to our patients. This is why we are currently reviewing these services within the broader context of how mental health and addictions services will be delivered in the future.
Our MHAU experience over the last year has shown us that the right environment for emergency mental health services is important to us and to our patients, and we will use the experience to continue to plan and improve our mental health and addictions services in the years to come.