Children and adolescents will soon be able to get inpatient psychiatric services close to home thanks to a successful $8.7 million grant application submitted by Kaweah Health. The grant, which will fully fund the construction of a 22-bed wing to Kaweah Health’s Mental Health Hospital, is one of 54 projects totaling $480.5 million recently awarded by the Department of Health Care Services’ (DHCS) Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program (BHCIP) Round 4 to improve California’s behavioral health infrastructure for children and youth.
“Sadly, one of the downfalls of the pandemic was that it brought an exponential rise in the need for mental health services for both children and adults,” said Gary Herbst, Kaweah Health Chief Executive Officer. “There are very few inpatient adolescent psychiatric hospitals in the valley so it is wonderful that we will have this for our community.”
Kaweah Health expects to break ground at the end of 2023 or early 2024 on the 22-bed, 8,200-square-foot addition to its existing Mental Health Hospital at Akers Street and West Tulare Avenue in Visalia. With an anticipated 2025 opening, as many as 684 youth could receive care there in the first year, with that number growing to nearly 1,100 young people in three years. In Tulare County, there are about 110,000 residents who are between ages 5-18 and about 20 percent of those children experience a mental health crisis a year; one in three of those youth in crisis go without care.
“There is a huge need for child mental health services in the valley. Now we will be able to provide these services right here in our own backyard,” said Cory D. Jaques, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and Program Director of Kaweah Health’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship.
Kaweah Health’s Mental Health Hospital, which offers adult inpatient psychiatric services, was originally built with three wings, however it was designed so that a fourth wing could be added as needed. Of the 22-bed expansion, 14 beds will be for adolescents, while eight will be for children. Care will be given regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, but in light of demand for such services across the Central Valley, children who live in Tulare County will receive preferential access.
Inside the hospital, child/adolescent patients will receive provide 24/7 nursing care and work with psychiatrists and licensed therapists (social workers, marriage/family counselors, or clinical counselors) undergoing complete psychosocial assessments, multidisciplinary treatment and individual, group, and family therapy. Additionally, patients will work with recreational therapists, registered nurses or licensed psychiatric technicians to receive health education and a special education teacher to ensure that education time is not lost while hospitalized.
Kaweah Health will contract with Tulare County Mental Health Services for the admission of children and adolescents and expects that due to demand for child mental health services in the valley, the service will be profitable by the end of the second year. It will also help children have better behavioral health outcomes close to home, which will also save patient families time and money.
This is the second grant Kaweah Health has received this year to improve access to mental health services for children and adolescents in Tulare County. Earlier this year, Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) and Kaweah Health were awarded a $4.9 million grant from California Health Facilities Financing Authority for the creation of a child and adolescent Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU). The 12-bed CSU, which is expected to open this summer in Visalia, will provide crisis intervention services for children and youth under age 21, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“Children who need care are currently brought to the emergency room when they are in crisis. The ER can be a relatively chaotic place and relatively scary especially for younger children,” Jaques said. “These two projects will change child mental health here in Tulare County.”
Kaweah Health will staff the mental health hospital for youth and the CSU thanks in part to its Graduate Medical Education Psychiatry Residency program, added in 2013, and a new Child and Adolescent fellowship added to the program in 2021. The Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Training Program’s mission is to train child and adolescent psychiatrists who will positively impact the health of youth and their families in the Central Valley.
Kaweah Health’s Psychiatry residency has been highly successful, with about half of its graduates remaining in the area to practice or get further training. Kaweah Health also offers adolescent therapy at its clinics in Exeter, Lindsay, and Dinuba, as well as adolescent and child psychiatry at its Lindsay clinic.