Children’s Minnesota unveiled its new child and adolescent mental health unit on Thursday, in response to the mental health crisis that has affected children across the state in recent years.
The new downtown St. Paul unit has been in development for four years, but the recent $97.2 million mental health reform bill has allowed the hospital to add even more to the space, including beds for parents to stay in rooms with their child. . The new unit will open in a few weeks and is intended for children and adolescents from 6 to 18 years old.
“To all the families whose children have mental health issues…to all those families, I say, have hope,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota, at the event celebrating the new establishment. “I hope this new unit at The Children’s can treat your child and relieve their symptoms so they can just be a child.”
The number of children in mental health crisis has increased dramatically in recent years. Minnesota hospitals and treatment centers are often at capacity, and earlier this year M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital had to turn an ambulance bay into a makeshift unit. The new Children’s unit is expected to serve approximately 1,000 children per year.
In treating adolescent mental health, there are different levels of care depending on what a patient needs at any given time, doctors explained at the event. As children recover or need better care, they are often transferred to different facilities and programs.
But now children admitted for mental health crises can remain in the children’s system to receive an on-site inpatient care program. Dr Joel Spalding, who specializes in pediatric psychiatry at Children’s Hospital, says the new unit will “dramatically” change the treatment of mental health at the hospital.
“Primarily…our emergency rooms have been managing mental health patients,” Spalding said. “As soon as they are medically stable, we looked for other systems for these beds.”
This means doctors sometimes have to communicate a child’s needs across two or more systems to ensure they receive the right care at each level of treatment.
“What we could see is that there’s at least a 25% failure rate at each of those times,” said Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s. “If you make a recommendation, there’s a 25% chance it won’t go the way you wanted.”
Chawla said part of the goal is to reduce the number of children who fail to successfully transition to new levels of care. Children’s already has a partial inpatient facility in Lakeville and will open another in Roseville early next year.
The new unit, with brightly painted walls, play therapy and quiet rooms, is designed with safety in mind. Each of the 22 patient rooms is also equipped with an advanced lighting system that changes the temperature and intensity of artificial lighting.
Chawla said the lights, along with the large windows in every room, can be helpful for people with mental illness, especially those with seasonal affective disorder.
Another key feature of the unit is that each bedroom has two beds despite being designed as individual bedrooms. This is how parents can stay in the unit with their child if it is part of their treatment.
“It’s a family-centered model,” said Pat Vitale, director of outpatient specialty care at Children’s. “We also need to help families understand what they can do to support their child. As with any other illness.”
Where to find help
Families can find mental health information and resources for crisis care on the NAMI Minnesota website, namimn.org.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 to get in contact with a Crisis Text Line advisor.
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