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A new path to recovery: Specialized mental health unit at Overlook Medical Center

Specialized mental health unit at Overlook Medical Center seeks to expedite care, reduce demand on emergency departments, hospitalizations

SUMMIT, NJ (Union County) – Atlantic Health System today marked the completion of the EmPATH (Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment and Healing) unit at Overlook Medical Center, the first of its kind in New Jersey.

The specialized unit has a triple aim: to take behavioral emergency patients out of the emergency department and into a setting in which they will get the appropriate care more quickly, putting them onto a path to recovery; thereby lessening volumes and wait times in the emergency department; and, ultimately, reducing the need for inpatient hospitalization.

“At Overlook we strive to be at the forefront of innovation in care,” said Stephanie Schwartz, president of Overlook Medical Center. ”The EmPATH unit is poised to be a game-changer, not only for Atlantic Health System, but for behavioral health in New Jersey, and we are so proud to be pioneering this innovative approach at Overlook.”

The new 1,800-square foot unit is currently equipped to treat up to six patients, with recliners which convert into beds as needed, as well as a kitchenette, bathroom and shower, and a common space for group therapy. There is space to expand to treat up to eight patients.

Currently, at hospitals throughout the state, patients with emergency behavioral health needs are faced with prolonged waits in emergency departments for care and bed availability. These patients hold in the emergency department, waiting for a bed where they can begin getting care. The EmPATH model challenges this paradigm, shifting the focus from immediate hospitalization to immediate treatment.

On the EmPATH unit, patients receive daily psychiatric evaluations, group and individual therapy and timely medication adjustments This proactive approach enables a collaborative decision on the next steps in care, whether it’s outpatient follow-up, voluntary inpatient care, or involuntary hospitalization if required.

“The EmPATH unit signifies a broader shift in our approach to psychiatric care,” said John Sobotka, MD, the psychiatrist who directs psychiatric emergency and observation services at Overlook Medical Center. “It prioritizes treatment and healing, ensuring patients receive prompt and effective care rather than enduring prolonged waits.”

The EmPATH unit model of care was designed first by Scott Zeller, MD, an emergency psychiatrist in California, who visited Overlook in summer 2023 and toured the space at the outset of the project.

The event was attended by numerous local and state officials, including Senator Joseph Cryan, Assemblywoman Linda Carter, as well as Summit mayor Dr. Elizabeth Fagan, Summit Council President Lisa Allen, Summit Council members Greg Vartan, Kevin Smallwood and Jamel Boyer.

“Overlook Medical Center’s new EmPATH Unit will provide a dedicated, supportive setting to deliver necessary emergency care to patients,” said Senator Joe Cryan (D-Union). “It’s always encouraging to see the evolution of patient care and to know their needs are being put first. I wish the entire team success and hope to see this concept implemented across hospitals and health systems nationwide.”

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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