'Like giving a child a hug': Children's Hospital opens new behavioral health center

By Debbie Kelley, The Gazette

New facility consolidates therapy programs and offers partial in-patient treatment

COLORADO SPRINGS – Previously, Children’s Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs sent their patients in ongoing mental distress out of town for treatment or children didn’t receive the care needed. “Neither are acceptable,” said the hospital system’s Southern Region President Greg Raymond. “If you’re a parent or grandparent or foster parent and those are your options, that’s devastating.”

With the opening of Children’s Colorado Therapy Care on Telstar, a pediatric behavioral health center at 2375 Telstar Drive in Colorado Springs, children aged from infancy to adolescence in southern Colorado communities can receive in-person and virtual mental health counseling. The facility also offers a new, partial hospitalization service for pediatric patients in critical mental crisis.

A girl w/olive skin and shoulder-length, black hair holds headphones and looks stoically at the viewer
Photo by Joans Kakaroto

“The community need is large,” Raymond said. “What we’re trying to do with this investment is reduce those numbers and provide children with outpatient services on the front end to prevent an emergency department requirement.”

Construction of the 26,000 square-foot building began in 2020, but was delayed last year due to supply chain and workforce shortages from COVID-19.

The pandemic also worsened mental health issues for youths, leading the Children’s Hospital Colorado system to declare a state of emergency in May 2021, stating the demand for services was far outpacing community capabilities.

The situation remains, Raymond said. “We continue to see with increasing frequency kids in crisis and emergency situations, at risk of hurting themselves or others or having thoughts of suicide or harming themselves or others,” he said.

The U.S. News & World Report Top 10-ranked hospital system, based in Aurora, operates urgent, emergency and specialty care sites statewide. According to Raymond, getting the new campus in Colorado Springs up and running is a priority.

A small, Asian-looking boy lies on a floor, clutching himself and crying as another boy looks on
Photo by Yang Miao

The opening has been done in phases to prevent overwhelming patients, he said. First, existing therapy programs were moved, then partial hospitalization services began in October. Now, the facility is fully complete.

About three miles from the Children’s Hospital campus in Colorado Springs, the $9 million behavioral health facility consolidates hospital therapy programs previously offered at different locations with the new partial hospitalization to fill a gap in available in-patient treatment.

Instead of residential care, children engage with the in-house program during the school day, then return home to eat dinner, participate in family activities and sleep.

Pre-teens and adolescents attend the program for up to two weeks and undergo intensive individual and group therapy, spend time on specialized developmental and behavioral health outdoor playgrounds, eat lunch and learn skills to improve their mental health.

A Black teen wearing glasses & a gray hoodie sits on the ground w/a bottle of ink and pen drawing a butterfly
Photo by Logan Weaver

There’s also an indoor orthopedic gymnasium and an outdoor sports field.

“It’s a combination of therapies that allow [children] to develop the tools to continue to be successful as they mature and develop into, hopefully, young adults with the ability to go to mainstream school and be successful in their homes and at school,” Raymond said. Treatment plans are tailored to individual needs. The program accepts all families — those who have insurance, including Medicaid, and those who have no insurance, he said.

Cohorts of 10 children are grouped together in a classroom setting, as they work with psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals to deal with various mental health conditions using evidence-based practices. “It’s an appropriate environment that reduces escalation rather than contributes to it,” Raymond said. “If you’ve got a child in crisis or emergency, going to the emergency department adds to the anxiety, to the apprehension, to the mental health crisis itself.” It’s also more expensive to treat children in a hospital than in an outpatient setting, he said.

However, the Children’s Hospital Colorado location in Colorado Springs at 4090 Briargate Parkway continues to accept behavioral health patients at its emergency department, which has six dedicated rooms designed for mental crisis care.

A young, white girl w/shoulder-length blue & purple hair wearing a sweater w/rainbow stripes
Photo by Alexander Grey

Referrals to the partial hospitalization program come from various doctors. “What Colorado Springs has lacked until now is post-crisis services, which is what the Telstar location and our new program does, Raymond said. "It’s wrap-around services, almost like giving a child a hug, trying to help them from all different sides.”

The new center features 10 behavioral health consultation rooms, including seven for out-patient care, three for developmental pediatrics and two classrooms for the daytime partial hospitalization program. “It’s going to be a significant volume,” Raymond said. “It’s child health reimagined and realized.”

This is the system’s third partial hospitalization program, with others at the Anschutz campus in Aurora and another in Broomfield.

Donors funded about one-third of the $9 million project cost, he said, and community organizations have helped get it off the ground. “We are grateful for the philanthropic support and other ways the community is stepping up and saying this is not acceptable, we need to do better,” Raymond said.

Read the original article here.

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