State health regulators and Wahiawa General Hospital are collaborating to develop short-term inpatient beds for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

The beds will target patients who require short-term care, generally for 15 days or less, at which point they can transition to a long-term residential program or return home to receive outpatient treatment while living in the community.

By adding up to 30 beds by early 2020, the hospital is expected to service up to 500 patients for short-term psychiatric and substance abuse treatment per year.

The project is expected to help close a jarring gap in Hawaii’s health care system for people who need inpatient psychiatric treatment for longer than a day or two.

The result of this gap in services is staggering — emergency rooms are overwhelmed with psychiatric patients who often get spit back out only to return weeks or even days later with the same symptoms.

On Oahu, The Queen’s Medical Center tracks thousands of what it dubs “super-utilizers” — patients who come to the emergency department repetitively for reasons including mental illness. In 2017, Queen’s spent more than $80 million on them.

The planned beds at Wahiawa are geared to provide a badly needed third treatment option between emergency room care and long-term inpatient psychiatric treatment. The beds will also offer a safe place to stay for homeless people who need short-term medical and psychiatric care as a steppingstone to long-term care in the community.

“The partnership with Wahiawa General Hospital fills a critical gap in our current network of care,” said Scott Morishige, the state’s coordinator on homelessness. “Currently, there are few immediate options available for individuals struggling with severe mental illness or substance abuse. By adding new stabilization beds, this partnership will improve continuity of care and result in critical cost savings for our health care and homeless service systems.”

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