Four years after opening a 20-bed child psychiatric hospital in Maple Grove, PrairieCare is moving to a new 50-bed hospital in Brooklyn Park — a sign of burgeoning demand for pediatric mental health care in Minnesota.

The hospital opened Tuesday and will start admitting patients Sept. 8.

“We frequently are forced to turn patients away because our facility is at capacity. Patients in crisis then wait in emergency departments around the state. The system is strained, leaving families without choice,” said Dr. Joel Oberstar, PrairieCare’s chief executive.

The move also reflects the remarkable growth of PrairieCare, which in the past eight years has opened outpatient facilities in Edina, Woodbury, Maple Grove, Chaska and Rochester, and is building another one in Maplewood. It also plans to convert its Maple Grove hospital into a long-term treatment facility.

The new acute care hospital is segmented into units for adolescents and teens, and includes separate units for patients who need high-intensity care and supervision due to their levels of psychosis. Many child mental health facilities such as the Maple Grove hospital are smaller, and group these patients together, which Oberstar said can complicate their treatment.

The $20 million hospital — which will also serve as PrairieCare’s headquarters — includes sensory rooms and activities for children with autism and other conditions.

Rhoda Michaelynn, of Golden Valley, said the lack of beds leaves adolescents and teens without immediate treatment at times when they might be thinking of hurting themselves or others. Her daughter, at age 17, was taken to an ER in a crisis two years ago, only to end up going home because no inpatient beds were available.

“As a parent, when your child is in crisis, it doesn’t work to be told you can come back a week from Tuesday,” said Michaelynn, whose daughter eventually was admitted to the PrairieCare hospital.

An outpatient treatment program will remain in one wing of the current pediatric hospital in Maple Grove, but PrairieCare has already petitioned the Minnesota Department of Health to review the conversion of the other wing into long-term psychiatric care. A finding that the project is in the public interest is required because the Legislature placed a moratorium on the construction of new hospitals in the state.

That public-interest process blocked the original effort in 2007 by PrairieCare’s parent organization, Prairie St. John’s, to build a 144-bed psychiatric hospital with a 24-hour emergency room for adults and children in Woodbury.

Prairie St. John’s proposed the Woodbury facility after seeing a surge in the number of adults and children admitted to its hospital in Fargo because no psychiatric beds were available any closer. The Health Department, however, concluded that the proposed hospital was too large, and that the state wouldn’t need so many new mental health hospital beds if more outpatient services were created to prevent patients from reaching mental health crises.

The state can’t really determine the number of psychiatric hospital beds needed in Minnesota from reviews of individual hospital proposals, said Stefan Gildemeister, the state health economist in charge of the public interest reviews, but there is no question that hospitals are only one piece of the puzzle.

The review at the time did find a shortage of pediatric beds, and it found that access to psychiatric hospital care was worst for children in central Minnesota. So PrairieCare found less resistance when it returned to state officials in 2009 with a proposal for a pediatric hospital in western Hennepin County.

The new hospital, at the southeast corner of Zane Avenue and Hwy. 610, will not include a psychiatric emergency department. Patients will largely be admitted after going to general hospital emergency rooms and being evaluated for their need for inpatient psychiatric care. “People can get access to emergency departments,” Oberstar said. “We’ve chosen to focus on what we can do and do well.”

The new hospital will serve about 1,500 children and teens each year, with the average length of stay being 8 to 10 days, until patients are stabilized and linked with outpatient care services.

The proposed long-term psychiatric facility at the existing hospital in Maple Grove could end up replacing or supplementing care provided at a state hospital in Willmar. Closure of that facility was delayed at least a year while the state Department of Human Services considered alternatives for children needing long-term mental health care.