SUBHEAD: Behavioral Health Center celebrates opening 

DAVIDSON – People came out in droves to celebrate the opening of the Carolinas HealthCare System’s new Behavioral Health Center, which has a mission to help patients and erase stigma.

The April 5 opening offered a festival-like atmosphere with pony rides, face painting and food.

But it also proclaimed a message that change is coming for those who need it.

“An estimated one out of every four people in the country suffers some kind of behavioral health challenge,” Carolinas HealthCare System CEO Michael Tarwater told the crowd. “There is a distressing shortage of services available to all these people, including a severe shortage of inpatient beds. I have some good news. Today, just behind you, is our first next step in addressing that shortage.”

The 66-bed building off Davidson-Concord Road offers inpatient and outpatient services for those with behavioral health issues, including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, withdrawal from drug or alcohol addictions and brain disorders such as schizophrenia. The center can also serve as a place for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other difficulties of returning to life after service.

Inpatient services are only for adults who are referred for treatment. Outpatient services, which are offered for all ages, are available through appointments.

The Davidson center doesn’t have an emergency room.

The average stay for inpatients is about a week. Doctor and nurse shifts are geared so patients have the same staff through the majority of their time to alleviate stress of changing faces and offer a chance to build relationships.  Medical staff is only in charge of a handful of patients each to offer personal one-on-one care.

The Behavioral Health Center, which employs nearly 160 people, is constructed with several amenities to allow patients to not feel as though they are in an institution, while still offering premium care with extra safety measures.

The building is outfitted with cork floors to block noise, lower beds and safety lock doors. Chairs are weighted, making them harder to pick up or throw, and doors have a sensor alerting nurses if anything is put on them of substantial weight.

“Patients are more likely to injure themselves than anyone else,” CHS corporate communications representative Jason Schneider said.

To help the overall wellbeing of patients, the building has a cafeteria, gym and recreational therapy area and a projector for movies. A courtyard is situated in the center of the building so it is enclosed on all sides, but still gives people a chance to be outdoors. The majority of the building also features tall windows to provide a lot of natural light.

Other technological amenities include an automated live translator and tele-psychiatry, which offers virtual access to hospital emergency rooms to offer remote aid for a psychiatric evaluation or other needs.

Tarwater said treatment at the Behavioral Health Center could help other aspects of a person’s life because much of what they treat goes hand-in-hand with other things, such as a diabetic getting depression that could lead to substance abuse.

“We don’t do a good job of recognizing behavioral health as a comorbidity,” he said.  “Sometimes it’s primary, sometimes it’s underlying.”

A national resurgence has begun to better recognize the need for behavioral health treatment, including establishing new behavior health centers, teaching people not related to the medical field to look for signs, the approving of presidential executive orders for departments to start a dialogue and the including of behavior health treatments in the Affordable Healthcare Act. 

In centuries past, people considered “feebleminded” or “eccentric” were taken elsewhere to live separate from society, said Regional Administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Kathryn Power, but not any more.

Davidson Mayor John Woods noted the importance of the center’s services because of the town’s firsthand experiences, alluding to several suicides that took place in town several years ago and inspired the town to take action.

“Mental illness may be difficult to talk about, but we as a community must acknowledge it and take steps to strengthen individuals which in turn strengthens our community,” Woods said.

But the road is still difficult. Even getting approval for a center in the northern part of the county was a roller coaster at best, said Vice President and Facility Executive Dr. Tom Gettelman, citing how thehospital was initially planned for Huntersville but was denied the zoning.

He, as well as all of the dignitaries at the event, thanked Davidson for embracing the hospital. It also came to fruition thanks to the support of other leaders, including Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, Sen. Tommy Tucker and N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis.

“What’s emerging is hope and a belief that recovery is real,” Power said. “That provides the essential and motivating message of a better future: that people can and do overcome the internal and external challenges of obstacles that confront them. Hope is internalized and can be fostered by peers, family members, providers, by allies and by others. It’s the core catalyst for the recovery process.”