Perspectives: New Behavioral Health Unit at Children’s Hospital Opens This Month

Hospital behavioral health practice administrator shares some of the best practices that went into this unique addition

Children’s Hospital New Orleans — part of the LCMC Health network —  is in the midst of a $300 million capital improvement project that will bring new services to its Uptown campus. $25 million of that budget is devoted to the hospital’s new Behavioral Health Center, scheduled to open late this month. When completed, the center will be one of the largest free-standing pediatric facilities of its kind in the nation.

The unit will have 51 inpatient beds available for children age 7 to 17 who need mental health services, such as treatment for severe depression, anxiety or mood disorders.

Hospital leaders said they’ve made safety, quality and access the key principles of the new project.

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“The first priority is patient safety,” said Cameron Bisset, Children’s Hospital’s behavioral health practice administrator. “It’s a state-of-the-art building in which everything is designed to keep the kids safe. The layout of the floor provides better vision to see all of the patients. The appliances, doorknobs and windows are all anti-ligature, which basically means they can’t be used as a way to harm yourself.”

Another priority of the project is increasing access, which is why the hospital is expanding its inpatient and outpatient capacity (adding 12 inpatient beds) to serve the behavioral health needs of children in the community.

The goal of building the new unit, however, is to increase the overall quality of care.

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“During our years in the field we have found evidence of what works,” said Daniel Waldman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital. “The new building lends itself to those best practices. One is the interdisciplinary model of care, where we have social workers, recreational therapists and music therapists all working with psychiatrists to come up with treatment plans for the kids. We have these spaces that are designed to facilitate that. And even though during a hospital stay the parents aren’t sleeping there, we recognize that families need to be involved in the treatment process for best outcomes.”

Waldman said that if families aren’t involved in the recovery process, problems sometimes reoccur after the patient goes home.

“It’s important for the parents to be aware of what is going on from the kids’ perspective,” he said. “There may be a lot of parent-child conflict that will be worked on in an outpatient environment, but the more we work on during the child’s stay in the unit, the better. To that end, we have rooms specifically set up for family sessions that maintain privacy.”

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Waldman said kids also benefit from “milieu treatment,” which involves forming communities of patients.

“A lot of the good the kids get out of being there is not just what’s happening one-on-one with a psychiatrist, but also in supervised group therapy, interacting with peers and music therapy. Part of it is coming up with the treatment but you also need to be able to implement the plan and this space has been designed for that.”

Nationwide, and in New Orleans, there is a growing need for this type of unit.

“We see hundreds of kids in some kind of mental health crisis come through the emergency room every month,” said Waldman. “It’s usually about them being an imminent danger to themselves or others — kids who say they are thinking about hurting themselves. They’ll tell a friend through social media or they’ll confide in a social worker at school. We’ll do a risk assessment and decide if they should be admitted.

“We had more than 300 cases like that in September,” he said. “On average, more than 2,000 come through the ER every year. On a national level, we’re seeing this crisis in ERs across the country where more and more kids are showing up in emergency rooms for mental health care. There are many reasons why that’s happening, including parents, social workers, school professionals, and peers who better understand how to recognize signs of crisis and how to seek immediate treatment. Also, the way kids access services in our city is changing. It’s constantly evolving. This is the primary way we’re responding and our way to find solutions.” n

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