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Foundation Story

Virginia's first emPATH unit

Published on Monday October 24, 2022
Groundbreaking Empath

Thanks to an anonymous $1 million donation, Centra began construction on Virginia's first emPATH unit in September and an innovative new approach to emergency psychiatric care. The donation is the largest single outright anonymous donation and among the largest gifts ever received by the Centra Foundation, which has committed to funding the construction and initial operating expenses.

“The donor expressed appreciation for care received at Centra and wanted to help address the greatest needs,” said Beth Doyle, executive vice president of the Centra Foundation. “It was a wonderful surprise. We are incredibly grateful.”

EmPATH stands for Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment and Healing. The model of care helps people experiencing a mental health crisis receive compassionate, holistic help in a calming environment. 
At hospitals across the country that have moved to this model, the benefits are clear. Among them: calmer patients, shorter stays, reduced hospital admissions, more available beds and resources for physical emergencies, better experiences and safer emergency departments for everyone.

A great and growing need

Centra’s recent Community Health Needs Assessment, conducted in 2021, identified mental health among the top concerns affecting the communities of central Virginia. It is a growing concern everywhere. Over the past decade, emergency departments in the U.S. have seen a 40% increase in adults who seek care for an acute psychiatric condition. 

According to Centra CEO Amy Carrier, “it is crucial for Centra to evolve and innovatively tackle new healthcare issues within our community. The launch of the emPATH unit is exciting evidence of this commitment. The Foundation supports not only the areas of greatest need but also aligns with the intent of donors and the voice of our community, which is lifted up through the triennial assessment.”

With more people needing emergency psychiatric care and an increased strain on the Emergency Department, “emPATH is going to mean better emergency care for everyone who visits Centra Lynchburg General Hospital,” James said. “It’s going to help patients on a number of levels.”

A proven approach

Pioneered by Scott Zeller, MD, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, the emPATH model utilizes a team approach, including behavioral health experts, to quickly calm and stabilize patients.

The unit is designed to be an open space that eliminates isolation where patients can be assessed and treated. 

At Centra, the team will include physicians, advanced practice providers, behavioral health experts, case managers and social workers. Patients, too, will be on the team in a more active role. 

“People will be able to move around, make themselves comfortable and speak with providers or even other patients,” said Ismael Gama, vice president of psychiatry and behavioral health. “It is holistic care in a supportive environment. We want patients to know they are not alone.”
The focus will be on returning patients safely to their homes with the support of outpatient services, their families and community resources.
“It’s really a therapeutic alliance,” James said. We can coach them, see how medications are working, adjust and form a plan for when they leave. I truly believe it’s going to be a life-changing difference for these patients.

“Put simply,” he said, “I can’t think of another time in my 40-year career that I have been this excited about a program.” 

With your support, we can tackle one of the toughest challenges facing people in our communities and enhance emergency care.

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