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Across N.C., hospitals report that more children and adolescents are experiencing mental health crises. Emergency room visits for mental health concerns have skyrocketed, and a shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds means many teens experience long waits to get care.
Fortunately, construction is underway at Cape Fear Valley Health for a new psychiatric unit for children and adolescents.
Families currently must drive anywhere from 60 to 100 miles away to get inpatient psychiatric care for adolescents. The new, much-needed facility features 16 inpatient beds for patients ages 12 to 17 years old.
“We knew that this was the need, every single time that we had to send somebody elsewhere, and you see the looks on the parent’s faces when we have to tell them it’s 70 miles from here,” said John Bigger, Corporate Director of Psychiatric Services at Cape Fear Valley Health
As of December 2020, the rate of ED discharges for children with a behavioral health condition increased by approximately 70% as compared to December 2019, and Cape Fear Valley’s pediatric emergency room has 10 beds.
“Oftentimes those 10 beds are taken up by children with psychiatric disturbances,” Bigger said. The new facility will allow them to receive the care they need in a secure and specialized environment, away from the chaos of an emergency department.
But while more beds are desperately needed, they are only one part of the state’s access challenges. North Carolina also has a substantial shortage of pediatric psychiatrists, and most are congregated in its biggest cities.
To address this issue, Cape Fear Valley also has a new Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Residency program, which Bigger calls “the icing on the cake.”
“We want to grow our own,” he said. “We want to keep some here that can continue to practice in this region, but by all means, we want to share the wealth and have a far-reaching impact across the state.”
Bigger is eager for the new facility to open, expected in late 2021.
“It is incredibly gratifying to see people get better,” he said. “I just love what I do. Cape Fear Valley is the only hospital in this community, and we take that seriously. We know the health of our community depends on us, and we really want to take that to heart and focus on whatever we can to do improve the health of this community.”
NCHA is supporting efforts to improve mental health access in NC. Learn more.