Fifty people surround a conference table at Chester County Hospital. Among them are mental-health experts from Devereux and emergency-department directors from Chester County, Paoli, Bryn Mawr and other area hospitals, along with various county service providers. The idea for this quarterly brainstorming session belongs to Betty Brennan, a clinical nurse and administrator with a long history in emergency care.
When Brennan arrived at CHH five years ago, the hospital was grappling with something that’s become a national issue: Their emergency department had become a crisis center for patients with mental health and substance abuse issues.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, one in eight visits to EDs involve one or the other—or both. “Because of drastic cuts in services, many patients seek help in EDs only when they’re in crisis,” says Brennan. “But we’re not equipped to care for them beyond the very short term, if that. We couldn’t turn them away, but we didn’t know where to turn to get them the right help.”
Help, it turned out, was right around the corner. “Other hospitals and centers in the area have great programs that we can send patients to,” Brennan says. “We didn’t know about them, and neither did other EDs.”
Brennan’s low-tech, low-cost networking sessions have become invaluable for sharing information on cutting-edge strategies that improve care throughout the region. “People participate because they care about their patients,” says Brennan. “All I did was organize the party.”