A new $10 million Behavioral Health Center will open on Wednesday at Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville, raising the level of care for mental health patients in the region.
The facility — a venture with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville and Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation — has been years in the making. It’s a brand new space for people who suffer from a variety of ailments, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
“Touchette has long been an excellent provider of key behavioral health services in the metro-east,” said Shelley Harris, interim chief executive officer at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. “We believe this Behavioral Health Center will set a new standard for quality care and community health partnerships to serve the critical mental health needs of our region.”
Once the 30-bed behavioral health services center opens, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital will discontinue its behavioral health services unit, which has 35 beds.
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No voluntary or involuntary mental health patients will be accepted at St. Elizabeth’s after midnight Tuesday, according to hospital spokeswoman Kelly Barbeau. The hospital declined to say how many patients are currently in the unit.
“Utilization of our mental health programs has been declining for several years and there are three other acute care facilities that provide mental illness service within 45 minutes of St. Elizabeth’s,” Barbeau said.
“We still recognized the need for providing quality care to our region so that’s why the concept of a regional mental health center was conceived. This collaboration between Touchette, SIHF and St. Elizabeth’s will improve behavioral health services through quality outcomes, service coordination and greater efficiencies in resources.”
The move comes at a time when St. Elizabeth’s is proceeding with its move from Belleville to a new $253 million, 144-bed hospital in O’Fallon, which will not include a mental health ward.
Dr. Tom Mikkelson, chief operating officer at Touchette, said revamping the mental health area at the hospital was overdue.
The new Behavioral Health Center, which is connected to the hospital at 5900 Bond Ave. in Centreville, more than doubles the number of mental health beds at Touchette from 12 to 30. Hospital officials anticipate serving more than 2,000 clients each year.
However, with the closure of St. Elizabeth’s behavioral health services unit, that’s a loss of 17 beds in St. Clair County, which also lost 39 beds when Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital closed in 2011 in East St. Louis. Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City has 100 beds and Alton Memorial Hospital has 20 beds. Both facilities are in Madison County.
“I don’t think the number of beds is as important as accessing those beds. Accessing those beds is what’s important,” said Sulbrena Day, vice president of ancillary services at Touchette. “What we are doing in partnership with St. Elizabeth’s is improving the access to the beds, and better utilization of those beds.
“What we would like to see is improved care coordination through having one facility that specializes in mental health in getting those individuals in here, whether its in the outpatient side or whether its on the inpatient side, getting them treated and then back home,” Day said.
I don’t think the number of beds is as important as accessing those beds. Accessing those beds is what’s important. What we are doing in partnership with St. Elizabeth’s is improving the access to the beds, and better utilization of those beds.
Sulbrena Day, vice president of ancillary services at Touchette Hospital
The state approved applications for the new mental health facility in 2013, and St. Elizabeth’s is guaranteeing the $10 million construction loan for the new unit.
When a patient comes to any of the metro-east hospitals, Desarie Holmes, director of Behavioral Health Services at Touchette, said hospital staff will determine whether the patient meets criteria for psychiatric hospitalization.
“If it has been determined that it’s a psychiatric issue, they then would be transported over here (to Touchette),” she said.
Day said health officials in the area have been working to have a “seamless transition” when the new behavioral health services center opens.
Some staff members at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s behavioral health unit will transition to working at the Behavioral Health Center in Centreville.
Barbeau said all St. Elizabeth’s staff was offered placement opportunities at both St. Elizabeth’s and Touchette. Of the 28 colleagues from St. Elizabeth’s behavioral health services unit, 22 chose to stay with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in other areas and two went to Touchette. The remaining chose other opportunities or retired, she said.
Features of the new facility
The Behavioral Health Center was designed to feel less institutional with large windows that let in ample natural light in an effort to get away from an institutional look and feel.
“So they (clients) can feel like that are having an experience and not feel like they are caged in somewhere,” Holmes said. “Typically when there is less light it increases people’s depressed moods. They are still very much connected to the outside. They don’t feel like they are tucked away and forgotten.”
The center is designed with a specific unit for inpatient clients and a separate area for outpatient clients. “The population between inpatient and outpatient should not mingle,” Holmes said.
The outpatient reception area has 45 lockers available for client use. “We have individuals who often times are transient or in transition,” Holmes said. “Their belongings are protected.”
The inpatient area also has lockers for its clients.
The outpatient unit has three group rooms. A smaller one, Holmes said, which can be used for court proceedings, if necessary, as some patients are admitted involuntarily. The room has two different points of entry — one from the inpatient side and another from the outpatient side.
The two larger group areas are outfitted with white boards and projectors. They will be used for group therapy sessions, Holmes said, where clients will learn coping skills and how to manage their illness/disorder.
In group therapy, she said individuals get a professional perspective and peer support. Outpatient clients typically attend group therapy five days a week, according to Holmes, with transportation provided to and from therapy.
Outpatient clients can be adults or older juveniles ages 12-17.
In the hallway near the group rooms is what’s being called a “nourishment area” — a water and ice dispenser clients can access. “We felt it was necessary to give clients an experience that was somewhat different,” Holmes said.
The contractor on the $10 million project was Swansea-based Holland Construction, and the architect was Lawrence Group in St. Louis.
The staff area is completely separate from both the inpatient and outpatient areas. There is a room dedicated to doctor outpatient consultation, Holmes said, and the table in the room is outfitted with a panic button, which will alert security.
Another feature of the Behavioral Health Center is that security officers will be embedded within the new facility, according to Holmes. Security officers will be specifically trained to handle behavior health clients and be able to get to know clients.
“This will give them a better idea of how to intervene in an emergency,” she said. “They are reacting to behavior health rather than the situation.”
Holmes said Touchette has behavior health interns from Lindenwood University in Belleville. In the future, she hopes to expand the program to other universities like Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and McKendree University in Lebanon.
The Behavioral Health Center will have a total of 13 employees and as many as four graduate-level interns at one time. Holmes said the interns gain valuable hands-on experience.
“When they leave here, they are ready to go and get a job,” she said. “We do an outstanding job with making sure everyone is prepared, and they have a good understanding of what behavior health is and what it’s not. They get a first hand, up-close and personal view.”
There are two group areas for the inpatient clients. A large TV will be hung behind a plexi-glass protective screen, and tables and chairs are all weighted down with sand for the clients’ protection.
Sam Kinman, director of facilities management, said about 200 pounds of sand was used in each table and chair.
In what’s being called the green unit, all the chairs are a bright shade of green, and in the so-called blue unit, the chairs are blue. The rooms have corresponding wall colors.
“The whole idea is to keep patients out of their room,” Holmes said.
The group areas have telephone-style booths where clients can make phone calls privately. “When people are hospitalized, their lives still go on,” Holmes said.
The nurses’ station has an open design and is embedded in the center of the complex.
If necessary, clients can be secluded in one of two seclusion areas, which are padded rooms equipped with cameras. How long a client is secluded depends, according to Holmes, but is typically between 10 and 15 minutes.
Both inpatient and outpatient client rooms, which are 120 square feet each, have furniture considered to be “new and innovative” in behavior health, Holmes said.
“It’s all weighted with sand,” she said of the furniture. “It makes it very difficult for an individual to lift it up and use it as a weapon.”
Each outpatient room has a bed, a three-tiered shelf adhered to the wall, and a bathroom. The bathroom has, what Holmes called, an anti-ligature door, which is angled along the top edge to not allow anyone to hang themselves from it.
The bathroom has a tear-away shower curtain as well as a mirror that’s reflective steel as opposed to glass. All the corners are rounded to eliminate any sharp edges.
It is about not just stabilizing the individual whose having an acute episode related to whatever is going on to the individual,” she said, “but it’s also about helping them to realize that they do have the ability to lead as much of a productive life as they possibly.
Desarie Holmes, director of Behavioral Health Services at Touchette
The rooms themselves feature a large door with another door inside of it, which Holmes said makes it “very difficult for an individual to barricade themselves in.”
Each room has a filmed window to let in natural light, but not allow anyone to see inside.
The outpatient rooms are single occupant while the inpatient rooms are double occupant with two beds in each room.
A mental health patient admitted to the hospital typically stays four to five days, according to Holmes.
Stigma of mental illness
The face of mental illness touches everyone, said Day, a nurse by trade. “Behavioral health has become a passion for me,” she said.
Touchette uses a person-centered model, Day said, which takes it’s mental health care to another level.
“When we look at mental health or mental illness, what an individual has is a stigma. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to deal with mental illness,” she said. “If we don’t change how we deliver it, then mental illness continues to be a stigma and it goes quietly throughout our community running rampant, and until there is a crisis, whether it’s a school event or an employer event, we have to deal with mental illness.”
The Behavioral Health Center will treat mental health patients with a “holistic approach,” according to Holmes.
“It is about not just stabilizing the individual whose having an acute episode related to whatever is going on with the individual,” she said, “but it’s also about helping them to realize that they do have the ability to lead as much of a productive life as they possibly can, and the way to do that is to help them invest in themselves and help them to understand their level of self worth.”
Day praised the new facility for taking the stigma out of mental health at Touchette.
“It looks like we are here to care for the person-centered, to help them recover,” she said. “I think that’s what we accomplished here. Are we there yet? We are going to be there. That’s our goal.”