1. Lockhart, Lisa MHA, MSN, RN, NE-BC

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Q: What are behavioral health response teams?

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A: A behavioral health response team is a rapid response team for behavioral emergencies, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Typically, these teams are geared toward addressing emergencies that occur on nonbehavioral health units where staff members are less prepared to manage them. The response team usually consists of behavioral health nurses and social workers who work in behavioral health. A literature search shows the common acronym for these teams is BERT (behavioral emergency response team); the acronyms BAT (behavioral action team) and BART (behavioral action response team) are also used. The response team serves several purposes, including intervention, consultation, and education.


Interventional interactions occur when the response team arrives and steps in to calm the patient and sometimes staff involved in the escalation. The overall purpose isn't to "take over" the crisis, but the situation may call for immediate intervention that the response team is better equipped to manage. Behavioral health response teams have a special skill set and education on how to de-escalate a patient and diffuse what may be an aggressive scenario. The response team may need to coordinate more assertive and physical interventions, such as restraining a highly aggressive or self-injuring patient. However, the goal is to prevent such an intervention from being required.


Consultation involves response team members consulting with the healthcare providers involved, making referral recommendations, and assisting with calls to better describe the behavior and situation. The response team may be needed to function as a liaison between the patient and staff. The patient may have grown to distrust or struggle with the response of staff on a nonbehavioral unit.


Education is involved as the response team mentors staff on the unit, providing safe and supportive feedback, recommendations, and consultation. The intent is that when a similar situation arises, staff members will feel better equipped to respond to the patient's needs and escalate appropriately.


Components of response team formation include defining the team's purpose, identifying patients who will benefit, deciding how the team is to be activated, determining how the team should document interventions, and ensuring that interventions integrate into the patient's individualized care plan. Hospital-wide education is crucial for response team success, and the committee that works on the development and launch of the team must be multidisciplinary. Committee members should include not only behavioral health staff, but also staff members from security, education, nonbehavioral health, and the ED. The group should meet regularly to gauge the response team's progress, develop an evaluation tool, and fine tune the process and policy on an ongoing basis. Much like traditional rapid response teams, there may be a need for standing orders, on-call healthcare providers, and defined roles for respondents.


Behavioral health response teams have proven to be an asset to patients, staff, and organizations. This method of safe and timely intervention, education, support, and referral has been successfully launched in facilities across the US.