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Larger mental health care center will expand services for children New childhood mental health facility with $56 million in state funding prepares to open in Richmond this spring

Roanoke Times - 11/19/2017

RICHMOND - Kiva Gatewood's son, Kyle, was so rambunctious that he was kicked out of three day cares by the time he was 3 years old.

"What do you do with that?" Gatewood asked Friday, addressing a crowd of officials from Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health and Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

As Gatewood and her husband sought answers and solutions to Kyle's extreme behavior, eventually they found the Virginia Treatment Center for Children.

"That experience affected us, it really affected us," said Gatewood, who is now a member of the treatment center's advisory council. "It means the difference between our family being together and not being together."

A new Virginia Treatment Center for Children, a pediatric behavioral health facility, will open to patients in spring 2018, moving from its current location on VCU Health's downtown campus to the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU's Brook Road campus. A ribbon-cutting event was held Friday.

The new 119,000-square-foot facility will expand the treatment center's capacity, increasing the number of inpatient rooms from 24 to 32 and the number of outpatient rooms from 12 to 20.

The center has about 7,000 outpatient visits a year, but in its new home it will have the capacity to triple that number.

Alexandria "Sandy" Lewis, the center's executive director, said the center will be hiring more staff to accommodate that growth. Right now it has about 150 employees.

Although the facility does not have a final price tag, it received $56 million from the state for the project through the General Assembly in 2013, and raised about $10 million in additional funds.

"When we think about mental health issues of children, these are deeply personal experiences and they cross over hundreds of thousands of children and families," said Dr. Marsha Rappley, VCU Health CEO.

"They need to see our government, our hospitals, our universities and those citizens of the community wrap around and say, 'We're going to take this on and we're going to make this better for you so we can all get better as a state, as a nation.' "

According to Dr. Cheryl Al-Mateen, the treatment center's medical director, children come to the center for a variety of reasons. Diagnoses include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder.

"On any inpatient psychiatric unit for children, upwards of 90 percent of children will have some kind of history of trauma," Al-Mateen said. "We are helping them deal with the after effects of those experiences."

The facility is designed to create a natural, home-like environment to dispel the assumption that inpatient psychiatric facilities are "institutional."

The design uses natural light and images of butterflies and woodland animals to create a calm, healing environment, Lewis said.

It was also built to facilitate a typical routine for the children, with daily classes like math and art therapy. Parents are encouraged to be part of the treatment process, and each room has space for a parent to sleep as well. They are welcome to stay for as long as their child is there.

"We've been doing open visitation for a really long time, even in the old building, just because it's not an individual child issue, it's a family issue," said Tess Searls, nurse manager with the center.

"We don't want the kids to come and learn one way with us and come home and have another way. We want them to know, you're a family unit, you're with your parents, we're just here to assist."

The 32 inpatient beds are divided into 16 units, each of which has individual pods of four or six rooms.

The units also have seclusion rooms. Lewis said those are included in the facility's design only to meet state regulations. The treatment center has not actually used a seclusion room since 2013 in order to avoid traumatizing children.

Each room also has a private bathroom with a sensor on the door so staff members know when a child has been in the bathroom too long - a warning sign that they may be considering harming themselves - and staff can allow some privacy without hovering outside the door.

The building is dotted with outdoor spaces and courtyards, too, to prevent patients from feeling as though they're locked in, Al-Mateen said.

Only about a third of the building is completed. Once it is opened and the treatment center staff has set up, VCU Health will raze the center's building at 515 N. 10th St. and build a new adult outpatient facility in its stead.


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