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Valley Hospital opening 20 psychiatric beds

A private hospital will open new psychiatric beds in Southern Nevada on Wednesday morning to help reduce the number of mentally ill people waiting in local emergency rooms.

Valley Hospital Medical Center will have 20 of its 48 psychiatric beds up and running, said Karla Perez, vice president of the acute division for Universal Health Services, which owns the Valley Health System.

Hospital officials anticipate they will continue to hire new employees to open the rest of the beds, she said. No specific date was given for when that might happen.

Perez’s remarks were made Tuesday during Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Council’s meeting at the Sawyer Building. The council heard an update on improvement recommendations already taken and a presentation on governance of mental health systems across the country. It also approved some recommendations for the next report due to Sandoval by Dec. 31.

“Our bed availability is improving as we speak,” Council Chairman Joel Dvoskin said during the meeting.

The new psychiatric beds at Valley Hospital come on top of an additional 14 triage beds that became available for the mentally ill at the Las Vegas WestCare triage center last month, bringing the total to 50 beds. The state, local hospitals and local jurisdictions each pay one-third of the cost for the triage center.

In late August, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved an increase in Nevada’s daily psychiatric reimbursement rate from $460 a day to $944 a day. The reimbursement increase is an incentive state officials hope will attract other acute hospitals, such as Valley Hospital, to open psychiatric units within their facilities.

Those bed expansions have resulted from the council’s work to improve the state’s struggling mental health system and help reduce the number of people going to local emergency rooms that are ill-equipped to meet their needs.

As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, there were 85 people waiting in emergency rooms who were medically cleared for transfer to a psychiatric facility, said Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.

Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, which operates 211 beds, is always full, said Chelsea Szklany, administrator for the hospital.

“We look forward to other beds opening in the community,” Szklany said. “Our role is not to compete with the community, but to serve what the community can’t serve.”

It appears that the number of people who are waiting in emergency rooms across the valley for an inpatient psychiatric bed has gone down, but officials will have a more accurate idea after a real-time count is conducted on Jan. 12, Dvoskin said.

The count system used now is voluntary, Szklany said. The Southern Nevada Health District is helping conduct the count next month when all the facilities will use the system, she said.

On Tuesday, the council approved a recommendation to allow paramedics to medically clear patients in the field in certain situations and transfer them to another appropriate hospital instead of an emergency room. That change will be in the report that will be submitted to Sandoval.

“We would be in a position to avoid any unnecessary ER visits,” he said.

Other actions that were approved expanded previous recommendations by the council to focus mental health services on the elderly and children and to offer mental health services in the state’s public schools.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.

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