Pediatric Behavioral Health Unit common areaIn response to the growing need for pediatric behavioral health care, in July St. Louis Children’s Hospital opened a 14-bed inpatient psychiatric unit designed to meet the specific needs of children and adolescents aged five to 17. The unit’s goal is to provide comprehensive care to patients experiencing a mental health crisis and teach them how to regulate their emotions through various coping and self-calming techniques.

Although the aim of treatment is to have patients discharged as quickly as possible back to their families and home environment, the length of their stay in the new pediatric behavioral health unit at Children’s is determined by their progress toward stabilized mental health.

“We expect a significant number of patients to be those who have expressed or acted upon thoughts of suicide. Suicide has always been a leading cause of death among adolescents, but the incidence has increased significantly in recent years,” says T. Eric Spiegel, MD, Washington University pediatric psychiatrist and medical co-director of the new unit. “However, there are any number of psychiatric problems, such as developmental disabilities and autism, that can result in challenging behaviors needing inpatient treatment. Another group benefiting from the unit are outpatients with complex issues who are as yet undiagnosed. Close observation of their behaviors by mental health professionals is essential to determining the basis of their mental health problems.”

Dr. Spiegel’s medical co-director, Michael Wenzinger, MD, recently completed his child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine. The unit also is staffed with mental health coaches, psychiatric nurse practitioners and nurses, social workers and therapists specializing in art and music. The bachelor-degree-level mental health coaches have extensive training specifically addressing their support of the therapies patients learn during individual and group counseling.

“Each patient has his or her own individual therapist and physician. Depending on the age ranges within the unit at any given time, separate groups are formed for children and adolescents so that we meet their needs in a developmentally appropriate way,” says Dr. Spiegel.

In addition, specially prepared private rooms located on medicalPediatric Behavioral Health Unit patient room floors of the hospital serve as alternative beds for younger children or for a higher census of adolescents.

St. Louis Children’s Hospital staff, including Mary Michaeleen Cradock, PhD, behavioral health director; Susan Hibbits, OTR/L, neuroscience director; and Victoria Fretty, administrative fellow, led the planning and research process for establishing the unit. Dr. Cradock, along with Katie Lyon, unit psychiatric nurse practitioner, partnered with the child and adolescent psychiatry department in developing the clinical treatment programs.

Once patients are ready for discharge, the unit’s staff ensure that they and their parents are provided with the most-appropriate outpatient support for their diagnoses.

“We’ve been working to develop more of an outpatient capacity in the region, partnering with our Washington University colleagues, BJC Behavioral Health, and Great Circle, a community based mental health organization,” says Peggy Gordin, RN, MS, NEA-BC, acting president of St. Louis Children’s Hospital and vice president, patient care services.

She adds, “Both in the emergency department and on the inpatient medical floors, our staff members have responded admirably to the increasing needs for quality psychiatric care for youth in our community. Opening this unit is in direct response to those needs, and it reflects our commitment to providing quality care for this vulnerable pediatric population.”

To learn more about the new pediatric behavioral health unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, call Children’s Direct at 800.678.HELP (4357).