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Connecticut Children's Medical Center unveils innovative pediatric mental health unit

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public

In a momentous event, Connecticut Children's Medical Center has officially opened its groundbreaking medical psychiatric-inclusive care unit, aimed at addressing the unique needs of children with both physical and mental health concerns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in demand for emergency mental health services, especially for school-age children, according to health officials.

Jim Shmerling, president of Connecticut Children’s, noted that while the hospital could transfer some patients to psychiatric hospitals, it became apparent that certain children couldn't be moved due to concurrent physical health issues.

“Mental health needs continue for a period of time, just not necessarily requiring inpatient care, but also outpatient continued therapy. We need more providers and support for the post-hospital care,” Shmerling said. “But when you see this unit, you can see what can be done working together in a collaborative fashion.”

The newly inaugurated unit is a pioneering effort inspired by best practices from a Rhode Island Hospital, Shmerling said.

Organizers said the hospital has committed to meeting the growing demand for mental health services over the last nine years. An investment of around $1 million has expanded the initial 12-bed space to 20 beds, addressing the pressing need for enhanced mental health support in Connecticut.

In 2020, a collaborative effort spearheaded by the state of Connecticut and involving various state hospitals commenced, leading to a daily focus on pediatric cases and an increased dedication to mental health support.

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“You know, we’re second in the region. That means we’re really trying to get ahead of this,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “You can get better with a great coach and with a lot of love. You can get better with a foster family and get better with the treatment you get right here.”

State Sen. Saud Anwar, who is also a medical doctor, said the successful completion of the medical psychiatric-inclusive care unit was made possible through unwavering support from Lamont, the legislature and private donors.

“We are trying to turn things around, and this is going to take a little while, but our job is not done. We are continuing to invest and work on ways to be able to help the children,” Anwar said. “The families should know that they have help. It sometimes takes a long time, but they never should give up. Keep trying.”

The new mental health area is ready to admit patients as of next week.

Organizers said this achievement represents a triumph of public-private collaboration, showcasing a dedicated commitment to advancing pediatric mental health care in the community.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.
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