Early Intervention Could Help Psychiatric Patients Steer Clear of the ER

New Jersey lawmakers are seeking to significantly expand initial screening programs for mental illness in an effort to divert patients in crisis from hospital emergency rooms into more appropriate community-based treatment.

In recent years, hospital officials have seen a growing number of patients with psychiatric problems flocking to their emergency departments when they are unable to find affordable care elsewhere. This results in less effective patient care and higher healthcare costs overall, experts note.

On Monday, an Assembly panel was the first legislative body to approve measures to beef up early intervention services (EIS) for individuals with mental illness and ensure each of New Jersey’s 21 counties have locally based programs — effectively doubling the number of sites currently operating. The proposals, introduced in January and crafted with significant input from hospital officials and mental health providers, are designed to better identify patients that need help and connect them with local mental health programs before they end up in the emergency room.

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