Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph in Wichita, Kansas, recently held a blessing ceremony for the hospital’s newest addition: the Psychiatric Observation Unit. The unit is staffed and equipped to provide care for up to 16 patients needing immediate behavioral healthcare services.

“Currently, we have outpatient and partial-day behavioral health programs for patients who need more intensive services but can still safely remain at home,” said psychiatrist Moneeshindra Mittal, MD, Ascension Via Christi’s medical director for Behavioral Health.

However, as in most communities, there has been no alternative other than hospitalization for behavioral health patients who come to the hospital Emergency Department needing immediate treatment in a calming environment where they can be closely observed.

“This new level of care, which has been employed successfully elsewhere around the country, allows us to provide that care in the least restrictive and life-interrupting manner possible,” Dr. Mittal said.

“It’s an innovative model, one that’s in keeping with our [commitment] to provide the right care at the right time in the most appropriate environment,” said Robyn Chadwick, the Ascension Via Christi hospital leader responsible for Behavioral Health.

The Psychiatric Observation Unit is staffed by a multidisciplinary team that includes psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers, nurses, behavioral health technicians and mental health protection workers.

“Our goal is to avoid having to admit people who could get the care they need in a less restrictive environment if it were available,” Dr. Mittal said.

The $3 million cost of the Psychiatric Observation Unit and therapeutic recreation center was covered by private donations to the Via Christi Foundation. Certain project costs have been supported by the Kansas Department of Commerce, Kansas Community Service Program.

Once the unit’s recreation center is completed toward the end of the calendar year, the consolidation of behavioral health services at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph, which continues to serve as one of the community’s leading family care facilities, will be complete.

Ascension Medical Group Via Christi’s outpatient behavioral health clinic and Ascension Via Christi’s partial-day and psychiatric residency programs, which now occupy the entire third floor of the medical office building immediately west of the hospital, were the first to relocate as part of the more than $50 million capital improvement project.

The hospital’s senior behavioral health unit and inpatient adult and adolescent units moved into newly renovated sixth- and seventh-floor space earlier this year.

“The renovation of our hospital’s physical environment to support a full complement of family and behavioral health services would not have been possible without the financial support of community donors and our national ministry,” said Laurie Labarca, Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph President. “We are extremely thankful for that support.”