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University of Maryland Children’s Hospital opens ‘trauma-informed’ psychiatric inpatient unit for kids and adolescents

The University of Maryland Children’s Hospital in Baltimore has opened a “trauma-informed” psychiatric care unit for kids and adolescents, the first of its kind in the state, the hospital system said Wednesday.

The nearly 14,000-square-foot unit, two years in the making, contains 16 beds for children ages 5 to 17, and is designed “both architecturally and clinically” with patients’ traumatic experiences, the hospital said in a news release.

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The psychiatric unit in the children’s hospital previously contained 10 beds and inpatient services only for children ages 5 to 12. It moved from the hospital’s fourth floor to the 11th.

Using soothing colors, calming sounds from nature, painted murals and private areas for staffers to do phone calls, meetings and documentation work out of patients’ view, the new wing is meant to give kids a safe space to heal, diverging aesthetically from the more institutional look and feel of traditional psychiatric care units.

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“The thought and design that have gone into creating the inpatient psychiatric unit exemplifies our commitment to the whole health of children — mental, emotional and physical,” said Dr. Steven J. Czinn, director of the children’s hospital, in the release.

The University of Maryland Medical Center invested $9.6 million in the new unit, said Stephanie Janard, a spokesperson.

Children and adolescents with trauma disorders, psychotic spectrum disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, co-morbid neurodevelopmental disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder experiencing crises can get treated at the children’s hospital, which also offers outpatient services, according to the release.

Maryland’s private behavioral health providers say they are concerned about higher volumes of patients seeking treatment as the worst of the coronavirus pandemic starts to recede. Prolonged social isolation, grief, job insecurity, lapses in substance abuse, elimination of in-person support services and domestic violence are driving the increased demand for care, they said.

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Inpatient services for kids and young adults can be especially difficult to find, but the children’s hospital staff said the need is greater than ever now.

They pointed to findings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed children’s mental health-related visits to emergency departments increased significantly from mid-March to October 2020, compared with the same time period the year before.

Meanwhile, Maryland data shows 99% of the state-run psychiatric care beds were occupied as of June 4, and bed occupancy rates in hospital psychiatric units were increasing. The average bed occupancy rate rose from about 68% in both the second and third quarters of 2020 to almost 74% by the last quarter of the calendar year, the latest data available.

Dr. Jill RachBeisel, chief of psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the new unit represents an important piece in the continuum of care available to children in mental distress.

“They are not alone in their struggle,” she said in a statement. “We are here to help them recover and thrive.”

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