8/8/2018 – Caldwell UNC Health Care planning to add psychiatric unit

Posted on: August 8th, 2018 by admin


August 8, 2018


By Kara Fohner
(Lenoir) News-Topic


A climbing suicide rate and an emergency room coping with a steady stream of patients who need mental health care are among the factors behind Caldwell UNC Health Care’s plans to add a psychiatric unit.


Laura Easton, the hospital’s president and CEO, said that the proposed unit has been under consideration since 2013.


“When we talk about mental illness, we’re talking about a very large range of circumstances. It transcends socioeconomics. It transcends education level. It’s something that almost every family has some experience with,” Easton said.


State legislators allotted $4 million in the budget passed in June for the unit. Easton said the hospital will gut the fifth floor and transform it into a psychiatric unit for adult patients with somewhere from 16 to 27 beds. In addition, the hospital is applying for a N.C. Department of Commerce grant targeted for rural health care operations. The Caldwell EDC is assisting the hospital with its grant application.


“We have to firm up the design of the unit,” Easton said. “We’ve been visiting facilities across the state to get a really good perspective on what the optimal design is and the optimal size is to have a really effective inpatient unit.”


It will employ several psychiatrists, licensed counselors and social workers, behavioral health technicians or nursing assistants, and nurses who specialize in psychiatric nursing.


Patients seeking mental health care in Caldwell County currently have few options, so many end up in the emergency room — an average of four or five a day, Easton said.


“Their stays can range from 24 hours in our emergency room to six weeks. They range in age from 10 years old to 90. They range in diagnoses from depression and suicidal ideation to severe schizophrenia and homicidal tendencies,” she said.


According to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services, the suicide rate in Caldwell has been climbing steadily since 2001. From 2001 to 2005, the rate was 12.9 deaths per 100,000 residents, from 2006 to 2010 it was 15.8, and from 2011 to 2015 it was 19.8, significantly higher than the state average of 12.7.


“It’s a very, very serious issue in our community,” Easton said. “And I think it speaks to the complete lack of support and help we have for persons in distress. It’s a very grave statistic, and I think it’s one that we hope to turn the corner on.”


The inpatient unit may accept referrals from Caldwell C3 Comprehensive Care Center, a mental health crisis center that was recently built next to RHA Health Services Inc. on Morganton Boulevard and has 12 beds for adults who are having either a psychiatric crisis or are detoxifying from alcohol or drugs. Psychiatrists working in the inpatient unit will also see patients for outpatient follow-up clinic visits.


“That will be added service to the community also,” Easton said.


Inpatient psychiatric care is just one piece of the hospital’s larger strategy to improve mental health care in Caldwell County, Easton said.


Depression screening has been implemented at each of the hospital’s primary care clinics in the past year, she said.


“They start to identify people that maybe they wouldn’t have known were depressed but are, and then they’re able to get them help sooner, when they’re not in crisis,” she said.


A primary care doctor at a clinic will also start a pilot program in September in which certain patients who need mental health services will be able to consult with a psychiatrist via a video call. Easton declined to identify the doctor.


“It can easily get quickly overwhelmed. You can see the need is so unmet, so we’re just starting with that one physician and his patients, seeing how that works. … We have very specific measurements of well-being to see if that Skype method works as effectively for that population to help them with the things they’re struggling with,” Easton said.


The plan for the inpatient unit adds to the hospital’s $24 million renovation project. It may take up to six months to finish the plans before construction starts on the unit, which Easton hopes will be open in the fall of 2019.


“There’s a lot of work to be done,” she said. “Inpatient (care) is just one piece of it. It’s an important piece. And anybody who’s had a family member who has been affected by mental illness really understands how critically important the need is.”


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