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Akron Children’s Hospital has completed construction on its inpatient pediatric behavioral health unit, adding 10 beds to the existing 14 and remodeling rooms to make them private and better suited for patient care.
Akron Children’s cares for approximately 1,000 children and teens in its inpatient behavioral health unit each year. The expansion will allow the hospital to treat an additional 500 patients in 2017, increasing to 750 patients by 2020 for a total of 1,750 annually
At the same time, the expanded unit will allow for growth in educational opportunities and training for medical students and adult psychiatry residents from Northeast Ohio Medical University.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five kids ages 13 to 18 either have or will have a serious mental illness. About half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and three-fourths by age 24. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24.
Access to care is a nationwide challenge, and poor mental health is associated with increased risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and higher school drop-out rates, crime and other risk-taking behaviors.
“The need is great for these additional beds and we anticipate the expansion of the inpatient unit to impact all areas of our behavioral health program, including increasing the capacity in our outpatient programs,” said Stephen Cosby, MD, director; associate chair of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology at Akron Children’s Hospital.
The hospital’s inpatient unit is intended to stabilize children and teens ages 5 to 17 in behavioral health crisis. This includes those attempting to hurt themselves or others, those participating in unsafe behaviors and those diagnosed with a psychotic illness.
During each of the last three years, Akron Children’s has evaluated between 2,500 and 2,800 children and teens for behavioral health complaints through its Akron ER and Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC).
The staff in these areas provides assessments and referrals to outpatient programs at Akron Children’s and other organizations in the community. Children and teens in crisis are referred to the inpatient unit, where they spend, on average, between 3 and 5 days.
Just in Time for Peak Season
The demand for inpatient behavioral health beds in northeast Ohio typically peaks in the winter months when more children and teens suffer from depression and tend to have difficulty dealing with demands associated with relationships and school year stress.
Akron Children’s expanded number of beds, and the fact that they are now single rooms, giving the staff more flexibility in accepting patients regardless of gender, will reduce the need to divert and transfer patients to other facilities in the region.
“The additional beds will help us fulfill our commitment to the community,” said Georgette Constantinou, PhD, administrative director of pediatric psychology at Akron Children’s. “We recognize that when parents bring their child to our ERs, they are putting their trust in us and want their child to be treated by Akron Children’s.”
The inpatient unit is the hub for group and individual therapy throughout the patient’s stay. A typical day may include exercise, various forms of art therapy, yoga, time for written reflection and other activities rooted in evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There are opportunities for patients to meet individually with their health care providers, stay up on school work, participate in group discussions and even prepare meals together.
Akron Children’s received $400,000 in state funding towards the $4.5 million expansion and remodeling of the unit. A gift of $25,000 from the Lehner Family Foundation and a gift of $15,000 from the Sisler McFawn Foundation also supported the project.
Finding Other Ways to Meet Demand
To meet the growing demand for services, Akron Children’s is collaborating with community mental health agencies in the region so there are behavioral health services available in most of its 27 pediatric primary care practices.
In 2016, Akron Children’s also established a PIRC service in the ER at its Beeghly campus in Boardman.
“We are hopeful our efforts are a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Cosby. “The trend in health care is not to separate behavioral health from physical health because we know they are intertwined. We need to see each person as a whole person, and recognize that the health of each individual can impact his or her whole family and even a whole community.”