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story.lead_photo.caption Dr. Brian Hyatt, medical director of Northwest Health’s Behavioral Health Unit, describes Tuesday the additional access safety door in one of the medical psychiatric rooms at Northwest Medical Center-Springdale. - Photo by David Gottschalk

SPRINGDALE -- Northwest Health will soon care for more adults with urgent and serious mental health needs, officials said.

The medical center unveiled an expanded behavioral health unit Tuesday morning after spending almost $4 million adding space for 18 beds, bringing the unit to 47 beds. The unit offers inpatient care for such acute problems as severe anxiety or high suicide risk.

Dr. Brian Hyatt, the unit's medical director and a transplant from Little Rock's Catholic Health Initiatives St. Vincent health system, said mental diseases still carry shame and stigma. Another hospital's leader once told him mental health services were a distraction from the "real" patients, he said. Northwest had a different perspective when they approached him to lead the unit.

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"It was about quality and a service to the community," he told a crowd of employees and Springdale business and civic leaders. He added during a tour of the expansion, "This is the Shangri-La of psychiatric units."

Christina Bull, Northwest spokeswoman, said the area should be ready for patients by the end of the month or soon after.

One in four Americans is experiencing clinical depression or other mental illnesses, and about twice as many will develop such an illness at some point in their lives, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency also reports that mental needs are often connected to other health problems and are particularly common in Arkansas and the rest of the South.

"We want to support our community with services that are truly needed here," Tom Sledge, Northwest chief operating officer, said Tuesday.

A stay in the behavioral unit typically lasts a week and includes time with doctors and group therapy and activities, Hyatt said. The idea is the unit's 25 or so staff members can help a patient become stable enough for outpatient treatment, as in hourlong appointments with a therapist at Ozark Guidance, for example.

Ozark Guidance, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the region's other major health systems helped start Northwest's behavioral unit about a decade ago. Perry Webb, president of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, called the team effort a success.

"And we've moved it forward," he said. "This is what great communities do."

Northwest's unit was designed with several safety features that reflect the serious nature of its work, including smaller bedroom doors that can't be barricaded from the inside. Door handles, bathroom fixtures, ceiling sprinklers and other details are all designed to prevent their use in self-harm, Hyatt said.

Often hospitals forgo inpatient mental care as too expensive because of all of these precautions, Hyatt said. He appreciated Northwest's willingness to take them on, even putting single beds in some rooms rather than squeezing in a second one to make more money.

Hyatt added 18 new beds are more significant than they might sound, with the number of people using them adding up quickly. In Little Rock he saw patients referred from Northwest Arkansas daily.

Hyatt's unit is among several inpatient care providers in the area. Vantage Point of Northwest Arkansas in Fayetteville offers inpatient services for children and adults, while Springwoods Behavioral Health focuses on adults and adolescents. Ozark Guidance offers outpatient and school-based care throughout the area.

Bull and Hyatt said Northwest plans to open a Siloam Springs outpatient behavioral health clinic and others in the future.

NW News on 03/14/2018

Print Headline: Northwest mental health unit grows

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