When individuals are identified as living with a severe mental illness and are unsafe to live in the community due to potentially harming themselves or others, they need hospitalization in an inpatient mental health or psychiatric unit. The goal is to stabilize the individual on a treatment and recovery plan. If an inpatient psychiatric bed is not open, the individual may spend an extended time in the emergency room before being moved to a mental health unit. If an individual is threatening to leave and is determined to be a danger to self or others, an emergency hold is used to keep a person hospitalized. Depending on state laws, the person may be admitted to the hospital for a minimum of 72 hours for evaluation.

A psychiatrist employed by the hospital supervises care. The hospital social worker is the “go to” person for discharge planning and for conveying family member messages to mental health providers and staff. For communication with the mental health team about individuals over 18, the hospitalized individual must sign a release of information form that allows hospital staff and providers to communicate with specific people about the patient’s status and treatment plan.

The Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (known as HIPAA) mandates privacy rules about communication of health information, which is sometimes a barrier for family members who want information from mental health providers and staff about relatives older than age 18. Individuals with a long-lasting, severe and persistent mental illness may be hospitalized at a regional treatment center, which is a state-administered hospital that offers intensive mental health treatment.

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