Children’s Minnesota opens mental health unit to meet surge in demand

Minnesota Children's Hospital - St. Paul's exterior view
“It’s a dire moment for kids from a mental health standpoint,” Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota said Thursday as the system announced plans to open a new in-patient mental health unit this month in its St. Paul hospital.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Children’s Minnesota will open a new in-patient mental health unit in St. Paul this month to meet a surge in demand for mental health care. 

“It’s a dire moment for kids from a mental health standpoint,” said chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, Gigi Chawla. 

The children’s hospital system with facilities in St. Paul and Minneapolis saw a 30 percent rise in youth mental health crises last year. Leaders there said suicidal ideation has become a top five diagnosis for the first time ever.

“We are seeing the largest number ever in our facilities of kids and youth for suicide attempts, for severe depression and anxiety and other mental health crises,” said Children’s CEO Marc Gorelick.

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The number of young people dealing with mental health crises has been rising for several years, including rises of 10 percent year over year before the pandemic. But the pandemic compounded already existing issues. And hospital leaders said they didn’t have the space offer young patients the help they needed.

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Children's Minnesota Hospital St. Paul CEO Marc Gorelick (right) speaks to donors and media about the opening of a new mental health unit on Thursday.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

“These kids come in and end up spending days or even weeks in emergency rooms or medical inpatient units, waiting for a psychiatric bed to open up to get the care that they need,” Gorelick said. 

The new facility is meant to address those issues with twenty-two large, private rooms, a design focused on natural light and sensory-friendly spaces, and a multi-disciplinary care team. 

“Our new in-patient unit will be one of a few such facilities in the state and the country with private patient rooms for every patient that also has space for a patient or a guardian to spend the night with their child,” Chawla said. 

Children’s is also partnering with community-based mental health programs, such as Washburn Center for Children. It expanded virtual mental health care options and is planning to open a new outpatient day program for children and teens in Roseville in early 2023.