Dell Children’s Medical Center unveils new mental health unit, citing increasing need for children’s psychiatric care

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Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas celebrated the opening Thursday morning of its new mental health unit focused on addressing rising concerns around children’s mental health.

Dr. Sonia Krishna, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the unit, said it was built to address a need for more comprehensive mental health services that is felt throughout the Central Texas and the U.S.

“A recently published study shows that emergency department visits and hospitalizations for suicidal thoughts and attempts have more than doubled in the past decade at U.S. children’s hospitals,” Krishna said. “Today signals the change that Central Texas families have been waiting for.”

The facility—called the Grace Grego Maxwell Mental Health Unit and named after a longtime volunteer—at Dell Children’s houses 24 inpatient beds, intensive outpatient programs and a partial hospitalization program for children aged 6 to 17 who are facing a mental health crisis due to conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder.

By having mental and physical health care provided on the same medical campus, Dell Children’s President Christopher Born said patients and families will find mental health treatment more accessible.

“The unit will provide increased access to care, reducing the stigma that families often deal with when it comes to mental illness,” Born said.

Previous to opening the Grace Grego Maxwell Mental Health Unit at Dell Children’s patients were referred to a psychiatric facility housed at Seton Shoal Creek Hospital, about 4 miles away. Seton Shoal Creek Hospital’s psychiatric facility provides services for both children and adults. Children currently receiving services there will be relocated to the new children’s unit.

“It gives them a comfort level that when they’re here, they’re in an environment that is specifically built for children and adolescents,” Born said. “You don’t have an intermix with adults. It’s designed for children in a very safe and secure environment.”

Although the new unit will have approximately the same number of beds for children and adolescents as the previously used unit at Shoal Creek Hospital, Krishna said a more robust focus on outpatient care such as therapy groups and phone consultations will help disperse patients to the appropriate level of care they need.

“[Patients] might be told to go to an emergency room, they might be told to make an outpatient appointment or they might be told to go to a pediatrician,” Krishna said of the phone consultations. “It’s a really nice way [to access care], instead of spending hours in an ER to actually just run through symptoms and have an expert tell you where to go.”

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Northwest Austin reporter. She is also responsible for citywide health care and entertainment coverage. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism in May 2017.
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