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

January 24, 2024

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

SUMMIT, NJ – JANUARY 19, 2024 – 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.

Overlook EmPATH unit mental health clinic

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."

About Atlantic Health System

Atlantic Health System is at the forefront of medicine, setting standards for quality health care in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New York metropolitan area. Powered by a workforce of 19,000 team members and 5,440 affiliated physicians dedicated to building healthier communities, Atlantic Health System serves more than half of the state of New Jersey including 12 counties and 6.2 million people.

The not-for-profit system offers more than 400 sites of care, including its seven hospitals: Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, NJ, Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ, Newton Medical Center in Newton, NJ, Chilton Medical Center in Pompton Plains, NJ, Hackettstown Medical Center in Hackettstown, NJ, Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, NJ, Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute in Madison, NJ and through its partnership with CentraState Healthcare System in Freehold, NJ.

The system includes Atlantic Medical Group, part of a physician enterprise that makes up one of the largest multispecialty practices in New Jersey with more than 1,600 physicians and advance practice providers. Joined with Atlantic Accountable Care Organization and Optimus Healthcare Partners they form part of Atlantic Alliance, a Clinically Integrated Network of more than 2,500 health care providers throughout northern and central NJ.

Atlantic Health System provides care for the full continuum of health care needs through 24 urgent care centers, Atlantic Visiting Nurse and Atlantic Anywhere Virtual Visits. Facilitating the connection between these services on both land and air is the transportation fleet of Atlantic Mobile Health.

Atlantic Health System leads the Healthcare Transformation Consortium, a partnership of six regional hospitals and health systems dedicated to improving access and affordability and is a founding member of the PIER Consortium – Partners in Innovation, Education, and Research – a streamlined clinical trial system that will expand access to groundbreaking research across five health systems in the region.

Atlantic Health System has a medical school affiliation with Thomas Jefferson University and is home to the regional campus of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Morristown and Overlook Medical Centers and is the official health care partner of the New York Jets.