Colorado Springs’ new Children’s Hospital behavioral health unit the ‘envy’ of medical community

By Debbie Kelley
(Originally published July 31, 2019, by The Colorado Springs Gazette

“You’re welcome to try to move the beds — I can’t budge them at all.”

Dr. David Listman, medical director for the emergency department at the new Children’s Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs, demonstrates his claim by trying to lift a corner of the weighted single bed in the behavioral health unit.

“It probably weighs 400 to 500 pounds,” he says.

That’s just one of the precautionary measures being taken for preschool to college-age patients, who arrive at the specialty hospital in crisis mode from a suicide threat, a suicide attempt, a psychotic episode or other mental breakdown.

Slick door handles, no visible wires or cords, no sharp edges, shatter-resistant windows, observation stations, glassless mirrors and recessed shower heads in bathrooms are other design elements.

Combined, they make the wing unique regionally and nationally, officials said.

“One of the big differences in here is that everything has to be patient-safe,” Listman says, “particularly around ligature and strangulation. Our room are stripped and safe.”

But the six-bed, 2,300-square-foot suite inside the pediatric emergency department is nothing like a psych ward or a traditional emergency room.

Immediately noticeable is that children and parents in any room can look out a window and see a view from the second floor of the building on UCHealth Memorial Hospital North’s campus at Briargate Parkway and North Union Boulevard.

Youngsters, adolescents and young adults with mood disorders, psychosis or schizophrenia, for example, feel better when they can see the cycles of night and day, Listman said, particularly after they’ve spent time under the hospital’s fluorescent lights.

“It’s good for their mental well-being,” said Greg Raymond, chief operating officer for the southern region of Children’s Hospital Colorado.

The unit is officially named the Colorado Health Access Fund of The Denver Foundation Behavioral Health Suite — in recognition of a $500,000 capital grant from the Denver Foundation that helped fund the $1.6 million space.

A donor’s $40 million contribution to the foundation through the Colorado Health Access Fund is earmarked for improving behavioral health access statewide, said Dace West, vice president of community impact for The Denver Foundation.

“This investment is our single largest in southern Colorado and allows us to play out the mission of the Colorado Health Access Fund and provide a quality environment for families,” she said.

The locked unit has the most up-to-date technology and incorporates best practices in the field, said Shannon Van Deman, vice president of the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado, a system of 18 locations statewide.

For example, families are encouraged to be part of the healing and the care.

“We’re constantly learning, so we have the benefit of all the experience from the Anschutz campus, which is 12 years old,” Van Deman said.

A team of 25 people from Colorado Springs and Children’s Hospital Colorado at the Anchutz Medical Campus in Aurora came up with the ideas and design for the new hospital, Raymond said.

Bright colors in the Colorado Springs wing are similar to other parts of the hospital to “reduce the stigma” of mental illness, Van Deman said.

She defines pediatric mental health care in Colorado as “still being in a crisis.”

While new legislation lawmakers passed this year created a pediatric mental health task force to work on standardizing assessments statewide and building a system for how children’s mental health care is handled, Van Deman said that will take time to develop.

“Suicide is the leading cause of death for 10 to 24 year olds in Colorado,” she said, adding that in other states accidents top the list.

While Colorado’s ranking for children’s mental health care improved from 48th in the nation to 33rd in this year’s Mental Health America report — largely due to more providers giving better access to services — Van Deman said the state is still facing “a dearth of resources and issues with parity, prevalence and quality of care.”

Children arrive at the new psychiatric unit by ambulance, through school referrals or from homes.

They are assessed, evaluated, treated and presented a plan for further treatment. That could be an in-patient facility in Colorado Springs, Highlands Ranch or Denver, or back home with follow-up instructions.

Patients stay in the unit anywhere from four hours to overnight, but there are no inpatient beds for behavioral health care.

If children have accompanying physical problems, they can be admitted to the traditional part of the hospital, Raymond said.

He projects the behavioral health care suite will see 1,000 patients in its first year of operation. The unit opened simultaneously with the new hospital, which began accepting patients on May 28. The Denver clinic handles about 4,000 behavioral health patients annually.

“We have not had anything like this in our community,” Raymond said.

“There’s not a lot of places that have a specific pediatric behavioral health section in the emergency department,” Van Deman said. “There’s a small amount of envy for what you have here.”