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State OKs inpatient pediatric psych beds

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Upstate University Hospital, the teaching hospital of SUNY Upstate Medical University, has been given the green light by two state agencies to open an 8-bed inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit. The opening is planned for early 2019.

The state Health Department and Office of Mental Health approved Upstate’s plans for the unit last month.

Upstate currently does not provide inpatient, hospital-based services nor does it currently perform intensive emergency-room based child or adolescent psychiatric services.

The $3.2 million unit will measure 7,580 square feet and be located on the seventh floor of the main hospital on the Downtown Campus. In addition to the 8 beds, it will feature a family lounge and visiting area. While the opening is still 15 months away, construction is expected to begin this spring.

The unit will provide treatment for individuals, ages 12 to 17 with a length of stay between five to seven days.

“We appreciate the state’s approval of this much-needed unit,” said Thomas Schwartz, MD, professor and chair of the Department Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “This unit will keep children and their families together in our community while they receive this care, but this is only the beginning as there is much more work to be done in bringing additional mental health services to children and to our region.”

On average about 8, but as high as 23, children and teens a day are at Upstate awaiting transfer to a facility that provides inpatient psychiatric care. Some of these children are transferred out of the area to centers in Buffalo and Saratoga Springs. Many more children are waiting in other area hospital Emergency Departments for access to inpatient psychiatric treatment. 

An increase in the number of inpatient adolescent psychiatric beds in Central New York was one of 17 recommendations included in the Final Report of the Youth Mental Health Task Force, created in 2015 by U.S. Rep. John Katko and New York Assemblyman William Magnarelli.

“Throughout my time as Central New York’s Representative in Congress, I’ve fought alongside community advocates, healthcare providers, educators, and hospitals to improve access to pediatric mental healthcare in Central New York.  Together with Assemblyman William Magnarelli, I was proud to launch a Mental Health Task Force, which provided a series of targeted recommendations to enhance care in our community last year,” Katko said.

“I commend Upstate University Hospital for acting swiftly on these recommendations and opening an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit so that children and teens who suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders will have access to the services that they need,” Katko continued. In Congress, I am proud to serve as Co-Chair of the Mental Health Caucus, and I remain committed to improving early identification of behavioral and mental health issues among children and increasing access to quality treatment.”

Magnarelli applauded the move to bring an adolescent psychiatric unit to Upstate.

“I am pleased that Upstate University Hospital has been approved by New York State to construct an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit,” Magnarelli said. “Providing care for adolescents facing mental health issues has been at the forefront of an on-going effort by many individuals in our community who recognize that access to treatment is of paramount importance to many Central New York families in crisis. This new unit will provide inpatient care to families on private insurance who currently have difficulty placing their children at Hutchings and other state-run facilities, and must send their children out of the area for treatment.”

Mary Jane O’Connor, board member with Family Tapestry and a member of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital Advisory Committee, said of the state approval: “We’re delighted with this action. It has been so hard for parents to get care for their children in Central New York. Going out of town is not conducive to recovery. We look forward to advocating for more beds and services in Central New York.” 

In addition to the 8-bed unit, Upstate is looking at other ways it might help to address the critical shortage of pediatric mental health, including the development of a therapeutic consultation team to aid children in the Emergency Department, as well as working with other agencies, such as Hutchings Psychiatric Center, to address children who need longer inpatient care. 

“Our desire is to find ways that children and their families can get the most appropriate care right here in their community,” Schwartz said.