Thursday, March 15, 2018 | Norfolk

In a move he described as tectonic, the president of Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters said the health system will expand its mental-health footprint in the community with a proposal for a psychiatric center.

The hospital must get state approval before moving forward, but president and CEO Jim Dahling said CHKD is committed to embracing what its community surveys have shown to be the No. 1 health concern: mental health services for children.

Three to five children a day arrive in the hospital’s emergency room in need of a mental health evaluation, a number that has increased by 40 percent during the past four years, according to CHKD.

If the children have both a medical and psychiatric condition, they can be admitted for inpatient care. But if their sole diagnosis is psychiatric, they need to be referred to a psychiatric facility. In some situations, such as eating disorders, that means traveling out of state.

The hospital submitted paperwork to the Virginia Department of Health on March 1 to build a new medical tower, to be located just off Brambleton Avenue, on the same medical campus as CHKD, Eastern Virginia Medical School and Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The tower would have three floors for mental health “day treatment” programs and 48 inpatient beds. Two more floors would be for other medical services, and four underground levels would be for parking.

The expanded mental health program would employ about 250 health care providers and support staff, and treat children 2 to 18 years of age.

The request for a “certificate of public need” would also include 12 beds in the current hospital for inpatient psychiatric treatment. The proposal will be reviewed by the state health officials to make sure the need for services is justified. A public hearing also will be conducted, likely in May or June. The state health commissioner is expected to make a final decision by early August.

A five-day snapshot of 14 mental health patients seen in the ER included:

  • A 5-year-old with a history of setting fires, and being violent to animals and adults.
  • A 16-year-old who took his parent’s diabetes medication after experiencing suicidal thoughts. His brother died by suicide at 13.
  • A 13-year-old who experienced sexual assault and later overdosed on Benadryl.
  • An 8-year-old who expressed suicidal and homicidal thoughts and tried to jump out of a second-story window.

Currently, the system receives 15 to 20 mental health referrals a day from primary and specialty care providers. One day in February, 153 children were on the waiting list, with waits as long as six weeks.

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