The EmPATH space at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital is a calming, living room-style environment. The shared, open layout is equipped with comfortable recliners, self-serve refreshment stations, and sensory rooms to put patients at ease while our care teams address their mental health needs.

Breakthrough Innovation, News and Events

Minnesota’s first EmPATH service opens March 29 at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital

M Health Fairview’s new EmPATH combines a calming environment with expert care so that people in crisis can get help quickly.

  • March 24, 2021
  • By Staff Writer

On March 29, M Health Fairview will open Minnesota’s first EmPATH mental health service – a pioneering new treatment model that offers rapid, comprehensive care in a calming environment.

EmPATH – or Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment, and Healing – is an innovative approach to emergency mental health care. It is designed to guide people safely through a current crisis while building coping skills that will guide them through future challenges. Our first adult EmPATH service is located at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital, and future EmPATH services for children and adults are planned for M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center.

Mental health is a significant – and growing – concern in the United States. Nationwide, one in eight emergency department (ED) visits involve a mental health or substance use disorder. Each year, more than 2,000 adults experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis come to the emergency department at M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital. While emergency departments provide vital and necessary care, their bustling environments may not feel calming to a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

EmPATH is different. “Everything – from the space design to the evidence-based techniques our providers use – puts our patients first,” said Lewis Zeidner, PhD, M Health Fairview's system director,  clinical triage and transition services. “We’re moving emergency mental health care in an innovative direction, and we’re proud to be the first in Minnesota to embrace this new model.”

A patient-centric model

The EmPATH approach is intended to address emergency mental health needs and improve patient outcomes, Zeidner said. To accomplish this, each EmPATH is staffed by multidisciplinary mental health specialists, including psychiatrists, licensed therapists, and psychiatric nurses.

After a short medical evaluation in the emergency department, patients will come to EmPATH’s calming, living room-style environment – a shared, open space equipped with comfortable recliners and self-serve refreshment stations. When they arrive, patients will have access to tablets equipped to provide guided meditation, soothing music, and entertainment options. This approach will give each person space and time to calm themselves as our care team begins meeting their treatment needs.

“EmPATHs may not have traditional patient rooms, but we know that people may still need a separate space where they can remove themselves from stimuli. EmPATH features four sensory rooms with patient-controlled lighting and music, which act as a safe space for patients to regulate their emotions,” said EmPATH Service Line Director Jake John, RN. “The innovative format and design give our team the opportunity to better assess adults experiencing mental health or substance use crises.”

“The space feels very different from our emergency and inpatient facilities,” said EmPATH Mental Health Nurse Manager Natalie Miller, RN. “Staff are consistently present and actively engaging with patients without the physical barriers of a traditional medical setting.”

In this setting, each person will receive a nursing assessment and full evaluation by both mental health providers and psychiatry providers. Together with the patient and any available family member or loved ones, our care team works to address the crisis by trying new coping techniques, starting or adjusting medication, engaging in skills-based therapeutic interventions, and developing a plan.

People will typically spend 12 to 48 hours in the EmPATH service. As patients prepare to leave the EmPATH, they will be equipped with a clearly defined care plan, next steps, and connections to follow-up resources and programs. They will also have a safety plan they can use the next time a triggering event occurs. The care patients receive from their EmPATH team will also be seamlessly integrated with other mental health and addiction care services available across our system so that there are no gaps for people in need of support, Zeidner said. 

Our mental health care commitment

As the largest provider of mental health and addiction treatment services in the Upper Midwest, M Health Fairview is deeply committed to caring for the mental health and addiction needs of the region.

Today, we provide more than 40 percent of the total inpatient mental health beds available among the six largest health systems in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. In fact, we currently have more than 350 inpatient mental health beds across our system.

EmPATH services are a new and important part of our spectrum of care, which includes inpatient psychiatric care, clinic-based outpatient care, therapy, psychological testing, and Behavioral Health Home care. They are designed to give immediate support to patients as a crisis occurs, prevent the crisis from becoming worse, and provide patients with long-term care plans that meet their needs.

“The space itself is a vital part of the care. The open layout and calming atmosphere stand in contrast to hectic emergency departments,” said Emergency Medicine Physician and Psychiatrist Richard Levine, MD, M Health Fairview’s medical director of adult behavioral outpatient services. “The EmPATH design enhances our emergency mental health care and allows our care teams to do what they do best – focus on mental health and well-being,”