Nation’s largest children’s behavioral health center opens

By Chuck Nelson, Associate Editor
April 18, 2020 - Last updated: May 14, 2020

childrens behavioral healthThe Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion, billed as the largest behavioral health treatment and research center on a pediatric campus in the United States, has opened on the Nationwide Children’s Hospital grounds in Columbus, Ohio.

Its medical director hopes it will set an example for future projects.

“Our ability to share our care model with other providers across the country will establish Nationwide Children’s at the forefront of solving our mental health crisis,” said David Axelson, MD, chief of psychiatry for Nationwide Children’s and medical director of the new facility.

The nine-story, 386,000-square-foot building is dedicated to children and adolescents with behavioral health conditions. It’s part of a $730 million campus expansion Nationwide Children’s announced in 2016 and marks the first time the hospital has had a free-standing facility for patients with mental health issues.

Columbus-based discount retailer Big Lots and its foundation provided $50 million toward the $159 million cost of the facility.

“Children’s mental health is just as important as their physical health, and the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion emphasizes the hospital’s commitment to that balance as part of caring for the whole child,” said Tim Robinson, chief executive officer of Nationwide Children’s. “This unique facility will help youth in crisis, but our care extends beyond its walls. We are focused on education and advocacy to transform children’s mental health.”

About half of the floors were to be finished by the building’s opening on March 10. Some of the space has been left empty to allow for future growth and some will remain empty for a time because the hospital can’t find enough medical workers, Axelson told The Columbus Dispatch.

A Pediatric Acute Care psychology team will staff the new facility, said Eric Butter, Ph.D., chief of psychology for Nationwide Children’s. The team consists of three psychologists, two psychology post-doctoral fellows and one pre-professional psychology intern. Another psychologist will work in the Mood and Anxiety Intensive Outpatient Service.

“The psychologists working in Acute Care Services are helping to develop clinical programming, including group and individual treatment services using evidence-based practices,” Butter said. “These psychologists are highly involved in supporting the training of our nursing staff and mental-health technicians working in the hospital.

“Our psychologists are also helping to design patient and parent educational materials to support their inpatient stays.

“We have also developed psychology training programs at the fellowship and internship level to help prepare future psychologists for these kind of careers, both here at Nationwide Children’s and at other children’s hospitals across the country.”

Nationwide Children’s has nearly 100 psychologists in its system, he said.

The facility includes a Psychiatric Crisis Department on the first floor with nine assessment rooms and 10 extended observation rooms with beds and safe restrooms for stays of up to 24 hours. Some of the rooms are padded. There also is a critical assessment and treatment clinic on the floor.

A youth crisis stabilization unit with 12 beds on the second floor is designed for intensive mental health treatment for youth.

Inpatient units on the seventh and eighth floors have classrooms and group gathering areas where patients can keep up on schoolwork. These floors also have “porches” — enclosed areas with access to light and fresh air.

Each patient room has a built-in L-shaped bed, color-changing lighting, foam bathroom doors for privacy and televisions with age-appropriate programming. The doors to the rooms have special frames to prevent patients from barricading themselves inside.

The inpatient floors initially will offer 22 beds, but that number will increase to 48 over time.

Calming paint colors, soft surfaces and adjustable lighting are found throughout the building. Waiting areas are outfitted with heavy, comfortable chairs that can’t be easily moved.

There also are comfort rooms throughout the building to offer soothing spaces.

Other areas in the building house a mood and anxiety program, family-based intensive therapy, an outpatient psychiatry clinic, a 3,000-square-foot gym and a multi-functional outdoor play deck.
There’s also a Ronald McDonald family room, a sanctuary and outdoor courtyards to provide space for families to relax.

Before the new facility was built, treatment for youngsters with mental health issues was scattered around the hospital complex and those in crisis were treated in the main hospital emergency room. The hospital had 16 inpatient beds.

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