Upstate News

May 12, 2005
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Onondaga County, SUNY Upstate detail plans to strengthen inpatient mental health services for children

SYRACUSE, N.Y.- Onondaga County and SUNY Upstate Medical University officials have announced a new initiative that will strengthen inpatient mental health care services for local children and adolescents. The initiative—a critical component for an improved system of care—offers short- and long-term solutions to the community shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds for children and adolescents.

As an immediate solution to the shortage of inpatient pediatric psychiatric beds, the county will make an urgent request to the state for eight additional beds for children and adolescents at Hutchings Psychiatric Center. Currently, Hutchings has 24 beds-eight of them temporary-for children and adolescents.

As a long-term solution, SUNY Upstate plans to incorporate at least 16 additional beds to serve as an inpatient child and adolescent psychiatric unit that will be administered under the auspices of the Central New York Children’s Hospital.

Local officials say the need for more inpatient psychiatric beds for children and adolescents is significant. An analysis of existing hospital data conducted during the past year by the Hospital Executive Council, Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Onondaga County Department of Mental Health found that 30 additional beds are needed to serve children throughout the 15-county Central New York community.

Currently only 16 permanent child and adolescent psychiatric beds exist in Onondaga County. The shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds for children and adolescents was created by the closing of Four Winds Syracuse in April 2004. Four Winds was licensed for 64 child and adolescent beds.

Since Four Winds closed, Onondaga County has worked with providers, families and others to reduce its hospitalizations of children by more than 50 percent, said Onondaga County Executive Nicholas J. Pirro.

Despite these efforts, officials say many children still require hospitalization and the lack of local beds forces them to receive inpatient care outside of the area and away from their families. The number of children who were hospitalized outside of Onondaga County increased by 44 percent last year to 116.

“This is not acceptable,” Pirro said. “By its very nature, hospitalization separates children from their families at a time when they are in crisis and most vulnerable. It is difficult under the best of circumstances-when the child is hospitalized in his or her own community, where families can visit often and remain involved in the child’s treatment.”

SUNY Upstate’s plans are to incorporate at least 16 additional beds to serve as an inpatient child and adolescent psychiatric unit on or near the SUNY Upstate campus. Architects and planners will explore options of placing the unit in the north or west wings of University Hospital, which will be renovated after the opening of the vertical expansion. The unit would be administered under the auspices of the Central New York Children’s Hospital. Pending regulatory review and approval, the unit could be operational by 2009.

“We have committed ourselves to providing the best in care for our children with the creation of the Central New York Children’s Hospital,” said Thomas R. Welch, M.D., professor and chair of the department of pediatrics at SUNY Upstate. “We will continue to honor that commitment by providing children and their families with a compassionate and caring environment in which to receive inpatient psychiatric care.”

State Sen. John DeFrancisco, who has been an ardent supporter of increasing and enhancing mental health services for children and adolescents in the Central New York community, applauded the announcement and cooperation between the county and SUNY Upstate.

“Securing additional psychiatric beds for our youth is an issue I have worked on relentlessly since I helped to secure additional inpatient beds at Hutchings last August,” DeFrancisco said. “It is vital that we have local care for our young people who are suffering from mental illness so that their families can be close by to offer them support during their recoveries. This united effort by Onondaga County and SUNY Upstate will help to move the Central New York Community forward and help to ensure that these children and their families get the treatment they need right here in their own community. I promise to do what I can to support their efforts.”

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