Overlook Medical Center celebrates completion of specialized mental health unit

Atlantic Health System recently marked the completion of the EmPATH, or Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment and Healing, unit at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, 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,” Stephanie Schwartz, president of Overlook Medical Center, said. “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 that 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,” Dr. John Sobotka, the psychiatrist who directs psychiatric emergency and observation services at Overlook Medical Center, said. “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 Dr. Scott Zeller, an emergency psychiatrist in California, who visited Overlook in summer 2023 and toured the space at the outset of the project.