Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas announced on Monday it will add a mental health unit to the hospital. The unit will include a 24-bed inpatient unit as well as an intensive outpatient program. It also plans to bring Texas Child Study Center, a Dell Children’s outpatient clinic that is a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin, within the Dell Children’s building.
The project is being led by a $3 million matching challenge grant by Nyle Maxwell and his family. The new unit will renovate the second floor of south wing of the hospital, and be called The Grace Grego Maxwell Mental Health Unit at Dell Children’s. The renovations are expected to cost about $7 million. Construction is expected to begin in the next six to nine months and be completed by spring 2018.
Including this gift, the Maxwell family has given more than $10 million to the hospital, which opened in 2007, and its predecessor. “As with most families who are challenged with raising children in this complicated environment we have today, mental health is a challenge,” said Nyle Maxwell, former Round Rock Mayor and owner of the Nyle Maxwell Family of Dealerships. “My family is not immune to this.”
Maxwell said his hope is that this gift and this unit will help remove the stigma of mental health and that more families will see it as a disease, not a weakness, and seek treatment. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 1 in 5 children experience a mental health disorder and only about half receive treatment. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents ages 12 to 17, according to Integral Care, which serves Travis County.
The new unit will allow Dell Children’s to coordinate different levels of care. Right now, patients in mental health crisis come into the emergency room at Dell Children’s, where they stay until they are moved to the 24-bed pediatric unit at Seton Shoal Creek Hospital or another local hospital. Then their care is moved to somewhere else for partial hospitalization or residential treatment or outpatient care.
“Right now, there is very little continuity of care once you leave Dell Children’s,” said Dr. Sonia Krishna, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Dell Children’s Medical Center.
While the new unit will not provide partial hospitalization and residential treatment when it opens, the hope is that eventually it expand to be able to. What it will be able to do is give patients in the psychiatric unit access to medical care without having to be transported back to Dell Children’s for care because they will already be at Dell Children’s. They also will have access to other Dell Children’s programs such as its school.
Once the pediatric unit opens, if a patient is already being seen by a Dell Children’s doctor on an outpatient basis, they can be admitted to the inpatient program without having to go through the emergency room. Or they can start at the emergency room, be admitted to the inpatient unit and then continue on an outpatient basis under the same roof.
Krishna says the hope is that care will be coordinated more closely and actually decrease the number of inpatient hospitalizations needed. The new unit doesn’t add any existing pediatric psychiatric beds; instead it moves the beds from Seton Shoal Creek to Dell Children’s. Shoal Creek is an older facility and plans are being considered with nothing definitive about where to move the adult beds there.
Eventually Dell Children’s psychiatric unit will focus on general acute psychiatric, substance abuse, eating disorders, and autism and other developmental disorders.
Coordinated care would have made a difference in Kate Peoples’ teenage years. The Austin 26-year-old, was diagnosed with anorexia as a 15-year-old and had to be treated in Dallas and then New Orleans and eventually Miami. Her family, she says, had to piece together care for her because there wasn’t one place she could go. “It’s really exciting to see Dell Children’s step forward and give the continuum of care that I didn’t get,” she says.
She’s now getting her master’s degree in social work at University of Texas.