Children’s Minnesota opens mental health unit to meet strong demand

Children’s Minnesota is opening a new inpatient mental health unit in St. Paul this month to meet strong demand for mental health services.

“It’s a tough time for kids from a mental health standpoint,” said Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota.

The children’s hospital system with facilities in St. Paul and Minneapolis saw a 30 percent increase in youth mental health crises last year. Leaders there said suicidal ideation has become a top five diagnosis for the first time ever.

“We are seeing the highest number ever in our facilities of children and youth for suicide attempts, for major depression and anxiety and other mental health crises,” said Marc Gorelick, CEO of Children’s.

The number of young people experiencing mental health crises has been rising for several years, including a 10 percent increase from the year before the pandemic. But the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing problems. And hospital leaders said they didn’t have the space to give young patients the help they needed.

A person speaks

Marc Gorelick, CEO of Children’s Minnesota Hospital St. Paul (right), speaks with donors and media Thursday about opening a new mental health unit.

Elizabeth Shockman | MPR news

“These kids come in and end up spending days or even weeks in emergency rooms or medical admission units, waiting for a psychiatric bed to open to get the care they need,” Gorelick said.

The new facility aims to address those issues with twenty-two large private rooms, a design focused on natural light and sensory-friendly spaces, and a multidisciplinary care team.

“Our new inpatient unit will be one of the few such facilities in the state and country with private patient rooms for each patient that also has space for a patient or a guardian to spend the night with their child,” Chawla said. .

Children’s also partners with community-based mental health programs such as Washburn Center for Children. It expanded virtual mental health options and plans to open a new outpatient day program for children and teens in Roseville in early 2023.

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