North Arundel Hospital to provide day treatment for mentally ill patients

April 26, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

North Arundel Hospital, following a national trend in mental health treatment, plans to open a program that will assist about two dozen mentally ill people on a daily basis.

Day treatment patients will receive therapy in a structured setting, but then return home at night and on weekends, said Dr. Marc Hertzman, medical director of psychiatric services.

The hospital has been running day treatment on a limited basis in its 19-bed psychiatric ward since January, Dr. Hertzman said.

"We've intentionally kept it small for now," said Dr. Hertzman, explaining that the hospital has been treating only six to nine patients at a time.

When the new unit is completed in late May or early June, the hospital will be able to treat 20 to 25 patients a day, he said.

The concept behind day treatment is that some patients, even those with serious mental illnesses, do not need to be hospitalized when faced with a psychiatric crisis.

"What has happened in the past is that because you don't have day treatment, you have to go to the most restrictive environment -- putting people in a hospital," said Thomas E. Arthur, chairman of the county's Mental Health Advisory Committee.

Mr. Arthur said mental health advocates welcome the new program at North Arundel, as well as the new American Day Treatment Center, a similar venture that opened in April in Pasadena.

With these two options, "if a crisis occurs, it's possible to stop it on the front end . . . and avoid hospitalization," he said.

Dr. Hertzman, who heads the inpatient psychiatric ward as well as the day treatment program, said being put in a hospital and taken away from their families is often disruptive for patients.

But traditional outpatient services, in which patients see a psychiatrist a few hours a week, have not been sufficient in stabilizing some patients or helping others to make a transition from the hospital back into the community.

Day programs have always made sense from a treatment standpoint, Dr. Hertzman said. But one of the roadblocks has been convincing insurance companies that have been reluctant to pay for outpatient treatment.

The concept has started to gain support because insurance companies are looking for ways to reduce the expense of inpatient stays, he said.

The cost of treating a patient in the day program at North Arundel is $154 per day, compared with $525 a day for inpatient care.

American Day Treatment's program, which is a private, for-profit venture, costs $200 to $300 a day, compared with inpatient stays elsewhere that range from $500 to $700 per day, Executive Director Heidi Katz said.

Right now, because North Arundel is running its program on a limited basis, only patients coming out of the psychiatric ward are being accepted for treatment.

As soon as the new 5,000-square-foot offices are ready, the program will begin taking referrals from private physicians, psychiatrists, social workers and family members, as well as self referrals, Dr. Hertzman said.

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