UK HealthCare

New pediatric Behavioral Health Unit focuses on healing, recovery

Image of group activity room with brightly colored furniture and child-friendly decorations
photo of patient room with two beds and adjustable color lights
image of dining room with green chairs and gray tables with orange gaming chairs in the background
image of nurse's station with gray walls and colorful inlay floor

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 22, 2023) On June 20, health care providers and donors cut the ribbon on the new Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) at Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH). The inpatient space is designed to meet the unique needs of children and adolescents who would benefit from more intensive mental and behavioral health interventions.

“Kentucky’s kids are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis,” said Scottie B. Day, M.D., physician-in-chief of Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “Suicide, suicide ideation, depression, anxiety and eating disorders have increased at an alarming rate over the past few years. There is still a lot of work to do to address this crisis, but along with expanded outpatient access, mental health screenings and provider training, this new unit is an invaluable resource for patients who need specialized care.”

The new space features semi-private rooms and one private room specifically designed for the care of pediatric patients. Previously, those patients were treated in the inpatient unit in UK HealthCare’s Good Samaritan Hospital. The BHU provides a personal, structured environment for adolescents with mental illness or behavioral health issues. Housed within KCH, the unit has access to a full range of age-appropriate resources, including pediatric medical services.

Other features include:

  • An expanded interdisciplinary team that includes providers from psychiatry, psychology, nursing, pharmacy, social work, art therapy, music therapy, pastoral care and Child and Family Life.
  • A secure outdoor area with developmentally appropriate activities and recreational therapy.
  • Therapeutic lighting and artwork.
  • A multi-use space for child-friendly activities.
  • Enhanced audiovisual and media services with connection to the Get Well Network, an interactive platform for patient engagement and care.

“The design of this new unit allows us to better meet our young patients on their developmental level,” said Amy Meadows, M.D., chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “We provide evidence-based, trauma-informed care with a focus on crisis stabilization, skill building and safety planning to give our patients the treatment and tools they need.”

In addition to medical treatment and therapy, patients will have access to several programs that focus on areas such as emotional wellness, healthy relationships, coping with stress, decision-making and self-esteem. Fayette County schools provide a full-time teacher for adolescents who stay on the unit more than five days. The teacher works with each patient twice a week to stay on track with school and homework.

For the safety of patients, staff and visitors, the BHU utilizes a Behavioral Emergency Response Team (BERT), a secure unit, two quiet areas and cameras in common areas to facilitate remote monitoring. All staff receive crisis prevention training that focuses on verbal de-escalation strategies

Starting June 25, patients who are 17 or under with behavioral health emergencies should be sent for evaluation to the Makenna David Pediatric Emergency Department at UK Chandler Hospital. Specially trained pediatric providers will evaluate and make recommendations for behavioral health concerns including but not limited to: 

  • Thoughts of harm to self or others.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
  • Depression or bipolar disorders.
  • Psychosis.
  • Disordered eating.

A recent study found that found that the U.S. mortality rate for people ages 1 to 19 rose by 10.7% from 2019 to 2020 and by 8.4% from 2020 to 2021. Suicide, homicide and drug use are among the leading causes of pediatric deaths. Nationwide, more than 60% of children and adolescents with major depression receive no mental health care and self-harm cases resulting in hospital admission almost doubled from 2019 to 2021.

“As evidenced by our reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, we know we are capable of an impactful, coordinated response to crises,” said Day. “The state of child and adolescent mental health is the next public health emergency. Our kids are calling for help, and we need to activate every resource available to answer that call.”

If you or anyone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

UK HealthCare is the hospitals and clinics of the University of Kentucky. But it is so much more. It is more than 10,000 dedicated health care professionals committed to providing advanced subspecialty care for the most critically injured and ill patients from the Commonwealth and beyond. It also is the home of the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that cares for the tiniest and sickest newborns, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and Kentucky’s top hospital ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

As an academic research institution, we are continuously pursuing the next generation of cures, treatments, protocols and policies. Our discoveries have the potential to change what’s medically possible within our lifetimes. Our educators and thought leaders are transforming the health care landscape as our six health professions colleges teach the next generation of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, spreading the highest standards of care. UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine committed to creating a healthier Kentucky, now and for generations to come.