Investment in safe rooms improves care at UCHealth emergency room in Steamboat

The UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center emergency department has been designated by the state as a Level III trauma center.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Nathan Anderson, an emergency room  doctor at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, can rattle off numbers about depression and suicide rates in Colorado off the top of his head.

But he doesn’t need to do that to justify the need for the Steamboat Springs hospital’s latest undertaking to build two safe rooms by mid-February.

“We all know that Colorado is one of the worse states in the union for rates of suicide, and within Colorado, Routt County is in the top quarter of rates of suicide,” Anderson said. “The Emergency Department is already set up with facilities to treat specific clinical issues. We have one whole room for trauma patients, another for cardiac patients and we have rooms that are customized for pediatric patients.

“But one of the things we were looking to do is address this other need — the mental illness issue,” Anderson continued. “We wanted to make sure that we had state-of-art facilities, so we could improve the care in that direction too.”

That’s the reason he was so excited that workers began demolition work Wednesday that will eventually lead to the creation of two safe rooms near the back of the current facility. The new rooms will provide a place for patients with mental health issues to be cared for in a safe, non-threatening environment.

“It’s still within the emergency department,” Anderson said. “It’s not an isolation unit, it’s not a containment unit. It’s a room that is designed to facilitate and make better treatment of a very important clinical problem.”

Anderson said the new rooms will provide patient safety in circumstances that can be very unpredictable

“One of the things that the rooms add is more of a respect for patient dignity and privacy,” Anderson said. “They get improved privacy, but they are not isolated. They’re still allowed visitation, and they are still in contact with staff at all times.”

Debbie Kennedy, registered nurse and manager of Emergency Care at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, is used to patients affected by mental health issues coming through the emergency department doors. She sees the improvements as something that is urgently needed.

“We are trying to provide an environment for our patients where they feel safe and secure as well as mitigate any risks for patients  who may be at harm from suicide or suffering from other mental illnesses,” Kennedy said. “The rooms are going to be located in the back of the department. It’s a quiet area where we will have two separate rooms, each having their own entrance. There will be an alcove in between the rooms for security to sit at, or an RN.”

Anderson said there was not a single incident, or even a series of events, that precipitated building the rooms. He said the staff and leadership at the hospital saw the rooms as a tool that was needed at the hospital.

The rooms will be monitored by video camera for patient and staff safety, and they will be large enough so that family can visit patients while they are being cared for or waiting to go to another facility for additional treatment. The rooms will be simple, and Kennedy said there will be nothing in the room that patients can use to harm themselves.

Funds for construction of the safe rooms came from the UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center Foundation, which contributed $150,000 during the 2016 Penguin Plunge and the 2016 and 2017 Diamonds & Denim galas. Additional capital for the project came from Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“It’s not just a question of getting new tools, new equipment and new rooms; it’s expressing a commitment to the community,” Anderson added.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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