The new building will let St. Paul's Regions Hospital proceed with long-sought improvements in adult psychiatric care.
Construction is underway on a new $36 million mental heath care building on the campus of Regions Hospital in St. Paul, an effort its backers predict will raise the standards of care for adult psychiatric patients in the Twin Cities.
Regions has long been the largest provider of mental heath services in the east metro at a time when demand for such services is skyrocketing and the area's current facilities are inadequate to handle what advocates describe as a crisis.
Now, after several other recent hospital projects under its owner, HealthPartners, Regions' behavioral health practice is getting its turn with a state-of-the-art building. Administrators say Regions will use it to implement long-sought improvements for psychiatric care.
"This is really the first facility for mental health designed for adults in the east metro in 20 years, if not the whole metro area," said Tom Geskermann, Regions' vice president of operations. "This an opportunity to set the stage for improving the care that we have in the Twin Cities. The standard will now be private rooms and adequate space designed specifically for psychiatric services."
Regions, of course, is seeking to remain competitive in the local health care industry, and its leaders say the project will cement its advantage in the frequently stigmatized field of inpatient psychiatric care.
Its 96-bed facility is housed in four upper floors of its circular, 47-year-old original building -- space that was first built as nurses' dormitories. It is characterized by shared patient rooms and bathrooms, cramped hallways with low ceilings, isolated nursing stations and a lack of natural light, none of which is in keeping with modern psychiatric practices.
Despite adapting its care models to cope with the rising tide of mental health needs, the hospital had been forced to turn to away patients because of its limitations.
"In 2005, we diverted 500 patients because we had no room and could not accommodate them here," Geskermann said. "We reduced that number to 35 last year, thanks in part to adding 16 beds in 2008."
Still, with demand for mental health services increasing, the move to a new building will be a game-changer for the field in the Twin Cities, he predicted.
More space and privacy
With 100 patient beds, there will be only a few more than the current facility, but the real difference is the space -- at eight stories and 115,000 square feet, it will double the area now available to patients, providing them with the much-sought privacy of single rooms and bathrooms.
"Lack of privacy is a big issue," added Dr. John Kuzma, Regions' behavioral health inpatient medical director.
He said the new facility will give Regions the opportunity to rethink its entire mental health services approach. The medical center will work closely with partners such as the National Alliance on Mental Health to forge links that will enable Regions' services to be integrated into a broader effort and create a communitywide network of care.
The new structure, set to open in December, has been designed to reflect the ethos of "patient engagement" in psychiatry, in which patients and their families are encouraged to help in the recovery from mental illness, rather than solely relying on treatment imposed by doctors.
Under that philosophy, the highly restricted visiting hours of the current facility will be relaxed, with much more space available for interaction with family members.
All the floors will be co-ed, with two units reserved for relatively high-functioning patients and two units of 20 beds each for "behaviorally intrusive" patients who require more nursing support.
The new building's fifth floor will be a "psychiatric intensive care unit," modeled after surgical ICUs, in which patients will be given acute care and then reintegrated into the rest of the facility, Kuzma said.
"We will have programming and a curriculum that will span across it all, with the goal to meet the patients where they are," he said.
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer. He can be reached at 651-501-4931.