EVERETT — Nature photos. A view of the water. Foam doors. Comfortable rocking chairs.
Those are a few of the features at Providence Regional Medical Center’s new 24-bed in-patient behavioral health unit that opened Thursday in Everett. It will serve a region facing a growing mental health crisis.
The 24-hour facility, on the fourth floor of Providence’s Colby campus, opens at a time when providers are seeing increased need as people deal with the anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s reopening, as well as trends that were already in motion which have overwhelmed the state’s psychiatric bed capacity and strained the behavioral health workforce.
“It’s beyond a breaking point,” said state Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett. “We have not had adequate capacity, either outpatient or inpatient, for a long, long time. Maybe you could say ever.”
The unit was remodeled from a strictly medical facility with over $8.5 million in state appropriations and grants. Robinson toured the space before it opened. She called it a “model for what we can do.”
The state-of-the-art status is due to safety features meant to protect patients while they stay there: ligature-resistant toilet paper dispensers, blinds behind glass and furniture that’s weighted down.
Other elements include creative approaches to care, like art therapy and spiritual care. There’s also dedicated space for court hearings within the unit for patients, where they can attend proceedings virtually with their lawyer.
The new space will largely be populated by patients already at Providence, where the emergency department sees about 1,200 patients with behavioral health needs each month, said Laura Knapp, the hospital’s director of behavioral health.
“There’s not even nearly enough beds, and so what that means is that they have to be admitted to our hospital in a medical bed, even though it is due to a behavioral health need,” said Knapp, who is a social worker.
For those patients who do have accompanying medical needs, the new unit can still provide that care.
Katie Gilligan, a psychiatrist and the behavioral health medical director, said such patients could be on the medical side of the hospital for “days to weeks to months without getting appropriate psychiatric care,” while they wait for a bed to open up in an in-patient facility elsewhere.
Providence also opened a behavioral health urgent care center in November 2019. Knapp said it now serves about 200 patients per month, but even that facility is only open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Time in the unit is expected to vary widely for each person. One quarter of the beds are set aside for longer stays, such as those under civil commitment for 90 to 180 days. The more typical stay is one to two weeks.
The unit admitted seven patients Thursday, all of whom had been hospitalized, awaiting psychiatric help. Knapp expects the 24 beds to fill quickly, as the hospital already has enough patients being treated in medical units who would be better served in the new space.
“My hope is that other organizations will continue to build out what we need in our community,” Knapp said. “We really do need a robust response to mental health. That’s the message, right? Traditionally, these services have been underfunded and they’re critical. Behavioral health needs can happen to absolutely anybody.”
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.