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'Like giving a child a hug:' Children's Hospital in Colorado Springs opens partial hospitalization program inside new behavioral health center

Gazette - 11/9/2022

Nov. 9—Until now, Children's Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs sent children in ongoing mental distress out of town for treatment, or families simply didn't seek the care their kids needed, said the hospital system's Southern Region President Greg Raymond.

"Neither are acceptable," he said. "If you're a parent or grandparent or foster parent and those are your options, that's devastating."

But with Wednesday's opening of Children's Colorado Therapy Care on Telstar, a pediatric behavioral health center at 2375 Telstar Drive on the Springs north side, kids can receive anything from weekly counseling to different therapies — physical, occupational, speech and audiology, learning — to sports medicine and new partial hospitalization services for critical patients.

"The community need is large," Raymond said. "What we're trying to do with this investment is reduce those numbers and provide children with outpatient services on the front end to prevent an emergency department requirement."

Construction on the 26,000-square-foot building began in 2020 but was delayed last year because of COVID-19 and resulting supply chain and workforce shortages.

The pandemic also worsened mental health issues for youths, leading the Children's Hospital Colorado system to declare a state of emergency in May 2021, saying the demand for services was far outpacing community capabilities.

The situation remains, Raymond said.

"We continue to see with increasing frequency kids in crisis and emergency situations, at risk of hurting themselves or others or having thoughts of suicide or harming themselves or others," he said.

The U.S. News & World Report Top 10-ranked hospital system, which is based in Aurora and operates urgent, emergency and specialty care sites statewide, made getting the new campus in Colorado Springs up and running a priority, according to Raymond.

Opening has been done in phases so as to not overwhelm patients, he said, first moving existing therapy programs, then adding partial hospitalization services in October and now Wednesday's announcement of full completion.

About 3 miles from Children's Hospital's main campus in Colorado Springs, the $9 million facility consolidates hospital therapy programs that had been offered at different locations with new partial hospitalization to fill a gap in available in-patient treatment.

Instead of residential care, children participate in the in-house program during the school day and return home to eat dinner, do family activities and sleep at night.

Preteens and adolescents attend the program for up to two weeks and undergo intensive individual and group therapy, spend time on specialized developmental and behavioral health outdoor playgrounds, eat lunch and learn skills to improve their mental health.

There's also an indoor orthopedic gymnasium and an outdoor sports field.

"It's a combination of therapies that allow them to develop the tools to continue to be successful as they mature and develop into, hopefully, young adults with the ability to go to mainstream school and be successful in their homes and at school," Raymond said.

Treatment plans are tailored to individual needs, he said.

The program accepts all families — those who have insurance, including Medicaid, and those who have no insurance, he said.

Cohorts of 10 children are grouped together in a classroom setting, as they work with psychologists and psychiatrists and other professionals to deal with various mental conditions using evidence-based practices.

"It's an appropriate environment that reduces escalation rather than contributes to it," Raymond said. "If you've got a child in crisis or emergency, going to the emergency department adds to the anxiety, to the apprehension, to the mental health crisis itself."

Also, it's more expensive to treat children in a hospital than an outpatient setting, he said.

However, the main Children's Hospital Colorado location in Colorado Springs at 4090 Briargate Parkway continues to accept behavioral health patients at its emergency department, which has six dedicated rooms designed for mental crisis care.

Referrals to the partial hospitalization program will come from various types of doctors.

"What Colorado Springs has lacked until now is post-crisis services," Raymond said, "which is what the Telstar location and our new program does.

"It's wrap-around services, almost like giving a child a hug, trying to help them from all different sides."

The new center features 10 behavioral health consultation rooms, including seven for out-patient care, three for developmental pediatrics and two classrooms for the daytime partial hospitalization program.

"It's going to be a significant volume," Raymond said. "It's child health reimagined and realized."

This is the system's third partial hospitalization program, with others at the Anschutz campus in Aurora and another in Broomfield.

Donors funded about one-third of the $9 million project cost, Raymond said, and community organizations have helped get it off the ground.

"We are grateful for the philanthropic support and other ways the community is stepping up and saying this is not acceptable, we need to do better," Raymond said.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.


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