A much needed inpatient psychiatric unit for teens is opening up this week in central New York at a time when suicide rates for children and young adults is skyrocketing. Officials say this is only the first step creating better access to child and adolescent care in a time of crisis.
In the rooms at Upstate University Hospital’s new eight-bed unit, is there is no hardware on the beds, or other furniture, items that could be used for self-harm. Dr. Joe Biedrzycki, medical director of the new unit, said the safety precautions also go as far as doorknobs. They're designed so nothing can hang from them.
"One of the big risks on an inpatient setting is someone trying to hang themselves. With those, you can’t wrap something around it and hang it," said Biedrzycki.
This unit will be open for children ages 12 to 17 at risk of suicide and self-harm. Before this, Upstate Interim President Dr. Mantosh Dewan said these kids often had to travel several hours from central New York for treatment, or ended up in the emergency room.
"Because we’ve not had this, we’ve just kept the kids in the [emergency department]. My concern about that is they don’t really get treatment. They’re just held. That’s not acceptable," Dewan said.
The unit is a product of a bipartisan Youth Mental Health Task Force led by State Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli (D-Syracuse), and Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus), meant address major gaps in pediatric mental healthcare.
"Five people an hour die in this country," said Katko. "For every suicide, there are 29 attempts. So every single day in this country thousands of people try to take their lives."
This unit is designed for acute admission and stabilization, using something called Dialectal Behavioral Therapy. It’s specifically geared toward patients with suicidal and self-destructive behaviors.
"It’s actually shown with significant research and evidence that it reduces length of stay, it reduces aggression, it reduces self-harm and suicidal behaviors, and actually helps prevent them having to return to the unit," said Biedrzycki.
The average stay at the unit is about five days. When released, patients will be referred to outpatient clinical treatment. Even with short stays, officials expect a waiting list. On a recent day at Upstate there were 10 adolescents coping with mental health crises in the ER, but there are only eight beds for these emergency cases.
"It’s going to be full the day after we open," said Dr. Christopher Lucas, Upstate’s Psychiatry Chair. "We need to expand all services in between outpatient, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, and then acute hospitalization. And that’s going to be our fight for the next few years."