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Dell Children's Offers 'Revolutionary' Mental Health Model

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   July 05, 2018

Patients at a Texas healthcare facility receive four levels of treatment from a full range of psychiatric and physical health staff.

The opening of a new pediatric behavioral health unit in Austin, Texas, represents a leap forward in mental health services for the city's children.

The Grace Grego Maxwell Mental Health Unit is located at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, and was funded in part with a $3 million matching grant from the Maxwell family of Austin.

"It's a best-practice model of care system for integrated mental health services. We provide a holistic approach to treating children with mental disorders," says Sonia Krishna, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Dell Children's.

Comprehensive care and enhanced access are keystones at the Maxwell Mental Health Unit.

Comprehensive care model

Placing the new mental health unit at Dell Children's is a key element of the facility's comprehensive care model, she says. "We will be on the same campus as physical health specialists like pediatricians, nutritionists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists."

The mental health unit features a multidisciplinary behavioral health staff of fellowship-training psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, psychologists, and expressive therapists. "We have specialists in drama therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and recreation therapy. We also have access to a nutritionist for eating disorders and a pediatrician for any physical health complaints," Krishna says.

Dell Children's Hospital Grace Grego Maxwell Mental Health Unit(Photo courtesy of Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas)

Part of the comprehensive care model for pediatric mental health at Dell Children's is offering four levels of care, she says. "We are not just having patients stay overnight. We also have lower levels of care where patients can receive intensive services while being embedded in their community."

These three lower levels of care are:

  • An outpatient clinic, Texas Child Study Center, operated in partnership with the University of Texas;
  • An intensive outpatient program, where patients interact with care providers for three hours after school; and
  • A partial hospitalization program, where children receive care during the day and then go home to their families at night, is in development.

"We have all the levels of care in one place, which is revolutionary for central Texas. … Patients can have access to the inpatient unit, the medium levels of care, and a community-based clinic all on the same campus with the physical health doctors," Krishna says.

Easing access

Siting all pediatric behavioral services on the same campus is a leap forward for patient access in Austin, Krishna says.

The Maxwell Mental Health Unit has replaced a 24-bed pediatric behavioral health facility at Seton Shoal Creek Hospital, which is located about two miles from Dell Children's.

"Before, you went to Dell Children's to go to the emergency room. Then you would have to get in an ambulance and go across town to Seton Shoal Creek Hospital, where you would go to the inpatient unit. Then you would go to the Texas Child Study Center to get your outpatient care," she says.

Locating the new mental health unit at Dell Children's also eases access psychologically, Krishna says.

"What also makes it easier is we are located at a facility that people are used to going to for other needs. … If you have an allergy appointment, you go to the same place as for your mental health appointment. This also significantly decreases stigma."

In addition, an innovative approach to boosting patient access is adding behavioral health navigators to the Dell Children's staff.

"If you have an allergy appointment, you go to the same place as for your mental health appointment. This also significantly decreases stigma."
—Sonia Krishna, MD

"There is a dedicated phone number that is answered 24/7. Parents can call and get connected to a trained behavioral health navigator, who will ask them questions and try to determine the level of care that is most appropriate for their child," she says.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.

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