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  • Jun 23, 2021

Cambridge Health Alliance Opens Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatry Unit

New unit marks first step in major expansion to meet critical need for inpatient mental health care.

SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), a community health system serving Cambridge, Somerville and Boston's metro-north communities and one of the region's leading providers of behavioral and mental health care, opens a new adolescent psychiatry unit at its Somerville Campus today. It marks the first step in an extensive plan to grow CHA's inpatient mental health capacity and add new services to support special populations who are at high risk.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and underlying conditions, there has been significant growth in demand and unmet need for inpatient behavioral health care services in Massachusetts. This is consistent with national trends that show a sharp increase in behavioral health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including for racial and ethnic populations.

Today, patients with acute mental health needs often spend days or weeks in emergency departments waiting for an available bed, a practice known as "boarding" which is especially acute for youth. Emergency department boarding rates for behavioral health patients awaiting an available inpatient bed have increased by between 200% and 400% in Massachusetts throughout the pandemic. In partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, CHA has embarked on a major expansion to help meet this demand and serve more people in acute mental health or behavioral health distress.

"The mental health crisis in Massachusetts is seriously exacerbated by a lack of resources for treating individuals with behavioral health needs, particularly for adolescents and children," said Assaad Sayah, MD, CEO of Cambridge Health Alliance. "It is a tragedy that there are so few options -- and that so many patients are forced to resort to emergency departments for needed care at critical moments. The opening of our adolescent inpatient psychiatry unit marks a milestone for CHA as we partner with the Commonwealth to address the shortage of inpatient beds for youth and adults and provide needed behavioral health services for our communities."

The 21-bed, 17,500-square-foot adolescent unit is the first phase of expanded inpatient psychiatry services at CHA's new Child and Adolescent Inpatient Mental Health Center at its Somerville Campus. It will significantly expand CHA's capacity and ability to provide care for adolescents aged 13-17, who previously had been treated in a significantly smaller space at its Cambridge Hospital campus. The unit, which is specifically created for adolescent patients, features a warm and comforting design, a majority of private rooms and dedicated indoor and outdoor recreation space.

Upon its completion later this year, the Child and Adolescent Inpatient Mental Health Center will provide a transformative continuum of patient- and family-centered care for diverse youth with mental health needs, including inpatient psychiatry services (24 beds) for children aged 3-12 and specialized autism spectrum/neurodevelopmental inpatient psychiatry services for youth (24 beds). It will also provide unique opportunities for training and research.

Additionally, CHA will convert two units at its Cambridge Hospital campus to adult psychiatry units. Scheduled for completion in the spring of 2022, this will result in 22 new adult beds, with eight beds designed for high-acuity adult patients who face challenges getting beds at facilities across the region. In total, CHA will add 64 inpatient beds to meet regional and state needs, building on its current 89-bed inpatient behavioral health continuum of care for patients of all ages from youth to older adults.

"Cambridge Health Alliance has had a long commitment of stepping up and addressing critical health care needs, including expanding access for behavioral and mental health care," said Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. "These new inpatient psychiatry units fill a critical gap in providing urgent behavioral and mental health needs."

CHA will continue to work closely with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services to implement and expedite this plan.

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