John Katko 3.JPG

John Katko

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen

Nearly one year after a task force led by U.S. Rep. John Katko recommended increasing access to adolescent psychiatric care in central New York, a Syracuse hospital is advancing plans to open a unit next year. 

Upstate University Hospital announced Wednesday that it will add a 7,580-square-foot inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit with eight beds, a family lounge and visiting area. Construction will begin this spring on the $3.2 million project. The unit will open in early 2019. 

The unit will be located on the seventh floor of the hospital and treat children ages 12 to 17 for a period of five to seven days.

The hospital released its plans after receiving approval from the state Department of Health and the state Office of Mental Health. 

"This unit will keep children and their families together in our community while they receive this care, but this is only the beginning as there is much more work to be done in bringing additional mental health services to children in our region," said Dr. Thomas Schwartz, chair of the university's psychiatry and behavioral sciences department. 

Katko, R-Camillus, and state Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli co-chaired a task force that focused on increasing mental health services for children and teens. The task force formed in 2015 and released its recommendations last year

The panel's 17 recommendations included increasing the number of inpatient adolescent psychiatric beds in the region, improving data collection on mental health and developing a strategy to better diagnose and treat mental illnesses. 

"I commend Upstate University Hospital for acting swiftly on these recommendations and opening an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit so that children and teens who suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders will have access to the services they need," Katko said. 

Before Upstate's announcement, the hospital did not have an inpatient unit or emergency room-based child or adolescent psychiatric services. But there is clearly a need. 

There are as many as 23 children and teens a day at the hospital awaiting transfer to a facility that provides the care they need. The children are sent to facilities in Buffalo and Saratoga Springs, according to the hospital. 

Upstate isn't the only hospital with children awaiting mental health care. The hospital noted that there are children at other central New York emergency rooms waiting for inpatient psychiatric treatment. 

The hospital is exploring more avenues to boost mental health care for children. Officials are considering the formation of a therapeutic consultation team in the hospital's emergency department that could help children. Another option is to partner with the Hutchings Psychiatric Center in Syracuse and other agencies to address the inpatient care gap. 

"Our desire is to find ways that children and their families can get the most appropriate care right here in their community," Schwartz said.