Helping patients find beds sooner, she said, will be "absolutely helpful."
Harrison, who helped shape the new registry, said limits on how often hospital staff can update information mean it does not provide up-to-the-minute information on empty beds. But she said it can serve as a "directional tool" to help guide nurses and social workers to the psychiatric units that are most likely to have space.
State health officials are also hoping the registry will provide important data on whether the number of psychiatric beds across the state is meeting the current need. Many clinicians believe that there are not enough beds, but there is not enough data to know for sure, officials said.
Some believe there is enough capacity, but that it is mismatched to need.
"My unit is always full," said Dr. Steve Daviss, head of the psychiatry department at BWMC. "But there are some units that are a little farther out there in some more rural areas that are sometimes at only 50 percent census, so they would benefit from being able to fill their beds more fully."
At this point, Daviss said, the registry is "still very much a work in progress." Similar programs have been successful in other states.
Lawrence Massa, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association, said the five-year-old registry there is "actively used" by the association's member hospitals.
"I don't think everybody participated Day One," he said. "It took some encouragement. There's always the innovators and early adopters, and the skeptics and laggards.
"But they've stuck with it. They find it useful."
Dr. Richard Alcorta, medical director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Services Systems, said he plans to conduct more training on the registry. State health officials are optimistic more hospitals will participate once they see the benefits it provides.
With full participation, Alcorta said, the state "would be able to see whether we actually have enough psychiatric beds for patient demand. Right now we don't know that for sure."
Hepburn said the state is working to allay hospitals' fears that the registry will be used as a prosecutorial tool for regulators of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA, the federal law that requires hospitals to find beds for psychiatric patients.
"The Mental Hygiene Administration is not going into this for that reason," Hepburn said. "We're going into this because hospitals and emergency rooms have said they need help getting people through their systems more quickly."
Edgell, the homeless man, said he would welcome any progress toward that end.
"When I get that bed, it's a moment of clarity," he said, "when I realize someone understands what I'm going through. Like I'm not crazy."