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Celebrating the opening of Virginia’s first emPATH unit

Published on Wednesday September 20, 2023
EmPATH ribbon cutting

The grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for Virginia’s first emPATH unit was a celebration of what can happen when a community comes together to address one of its greatest healthcare needs.

A gift from the community for the community.  

That is one way James Bryant, RN, DNP, CEN, CPEN, NEA-BC, vice president of emergency services, describes the new emPATH unit at Centra Lynchburg General Hospital. 

EmPATH unit
The new emPATH unit at Centra Lynchburg General Hospital. 

An anonymous $1 million gift from a grateful patient, donations to the Centra Foundation’s Greatest Need Fund and a team of dedicated Centra Caregivers helped to make the innovative Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment and Healing unit a reality for patients. The first of its kind in Virginia, it is a proven approach to help those experiencing a mental health crisis.  

Leaders from Centra, Centra Foundation and the community celebrated its grand opening September 12.

“This is really a story about a community, a Foundation and a healthcare system coming together to address a significant need for the people of central Virginia,” James said. “Sometimes we all need a ‘gift’ to inspire change. EmPATH is significant for those who can benefit from this type of care and really for all who visit the ED.”

Ismael Gama, vice president of psychiatry and behavioral health, agreed. The unit “speaks to a donor, a Foundation, a healthcare system, a community that recognizes a need and says let’s do something for this community.”

Caregivers cut the ribbon
Caregivers cut the ribbon to open the unit.

According to Centra’s triennial Community Health Needs Assessment, mental health continues to rank among the top health concerns affecting communities across central Virginia.

The new approach is “perfectly aligned with the innovative care we aspire to deliver here at Centra,” said Centra CEO Amy Carrier. It fits well with her vision to make Centra one of the best small not-for-profit community healthcare systems in the country.

The unit includes a soothing outdoor space that may be a first of its kind in the U.S. 

All of it will be a game changer for many people in crisis as well as their families. The approach allows patients to move around, interact and get help in a safe and soothing environment. 

“Mental health is not as easy for people to talk about as some other health challenges,” said Centra Board Chair George Zippel. “But, like with cancer, I bet we all know someone who struggles with it. This is going to be huge for our community.”

Board members attend the opening.
Centra Foundation board members George Hurt, MD, Traci Blido, and Pavan Thallapragada with Centra Foundation Executive Vice President Beth Doyle.

Beth Doyle, executive vice president of the Centra Foundation, shared her appreciation for the anonymous donor and community members who have made a gift so far. 

“We’re pleased to be able to celebrate this opening during our 30th anniversary as we honor the incredible impact donors have had on healthcare for our local communities,” she said. “This is a perfect example of how donor support can ignite a passion for change and a determination to find new ways and new models to care for patients.” 

The Centra Foundation is funding the construction and initial operating expenses. You can help make a difference for people in our community who are experiencing a mental health crisis and need emergency care 

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