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  • Jun 17, 2022

Cambridge Health Alliance to Open Center for Inpatient Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

New units mark latest step in major expansion to meet critical need for inpatient mental health care

SOMERVILLE, Mass. – On Tuesday, June 28, Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), a community health system serving Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston's metro-north communities and a leading provider of behavioral health care, will open a new Center for Inpatient Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at its Somerville Campus. It marks the latest step in an extensive plan to expand CHA's inpatient capacity to address the critical need for acute psychiatric care in Massachusetts and add new services to support special high-risk populations.

Massachusetts has seen a growing need and intensified patient acuity requiring hospital-level psychiatric care, a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is consistent with national trends that show a sharp increase in behavioral health conditions. Patients with acute mental health needs often spend days or weeks in emergency departments or other hospital settings waiting for an available inpatient placement, resulting in an unprecedented level of behavioral health "boarding." According to data compiled by the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association as of June 13, there were 688 behavioral health boarding patients across the state, including 146 pediatric, 446 adult, and 96 geriatric patients.

In response to the urgent behavioral health needs identified and prioritized in partnership with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, and MassHealth (federal, state, and local legislature), CHA's major expansion will make it the Commonwealth's largest provider of child and adolescent inpatient mental health services and will complement the Commonwealth's Behavioral Health Roadmap.

CHA will add 42 new child, adolescent and specialized youth autism/ neurodevelopmental beds at its Somerville Campus, more than doubling CHA's capacity to 69 youth beds (an increase of 156 percent) as they are phased in (view a virtual tour here).

The Center for Inpatient Child & Adolescent Psychiatry includes:

  • A 24-bed Child Psychiatry Unit for children ages 3-12 (11 new beds)
  • A 21-bed Adolescent Psychiatry Unit for youth ages 13-17 (opened in June 2021 to expedite 7 new beds)
  • A new 24-bed Neurodevelopmental Unit which will provide multidisciplinary and specialized care to children and adolescents with a variety of clinical needs. It is designed for patients with a primary diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, or a related neurodevelopmental disorder, who are also experiencing serious behavioral or mental health concerns.

With these services in place, CHA will expand on services previously offered at its Cambridge Hospital campus and integrate them into this specially designed setting to provide transformative care for diverse youth. The units include a warm and comforting design, many private rooms, and outdoor recreation space. The Center will also provide opportunities for training and research to impact the mental health and wellbeing of children in Massachusetts and beyond.

CHA CEO Sayah with Sen. Ed Markey

"We are in the midst of a challenging and complex mental health crisis, which has only been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic," said Assaad Sayah, MD, CEO of Cambridge Health Alliance. "As a leader in behavioral health services, we want to be part of the solution. Our new Center for Inpatient Child & Adolescent Psychiatry will be a healing environment and positive resource for youth and families in need of acute care."

Additionally, CHA will convert two units at its Cambridge Hospital campus to adult inpatient psychiatry units. Scheduled for completion by the end of 2022, this will result in 22-24 new adult beds. In total, CHA will add 64-66 inpatient psychiatry beds to meet regional and state needs, adding to its current 89-bed inpatient behavioral health services (for a total of 155 inpatient beds) for patients of all ages from youth to older adults.

CHA Staff at Child Psych unit grand opening

"Seeing the intense demand for inpatient psychiatric beds, in 2021 EOHHS put out a call with incentives to our hospital colleagues to respond to the demand. And without missing a beat, CHA was first to answer that call," said Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. "CHA has stepped up, particularly for children with complex behavioral health challenges, and understood the youth-centered and trauma-informed environment that children need to heal along with their families."

Senator Ed Markey at grand opening event"Cambridge Health Alliance is a paragon of community-based, intersectional health care in our cities north of Boston," said U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey. "The new Center for Inpatient Child & Adolescent Psychiatry will provide indispensable behavioral health services in moments when our young people need it most, and help address a critical shortage of inpatient psychiatric care across our Commonwealth. I am proud to have partnered with Senator Warren to secure $4.6 million in federal funding for these efforts, and I thank CHA for their steadfast work to make the Center a reality."

"Here in Somerville, the health, safety, and wellbeing of our youth is paramount. We must address the growing adolescent mental health crisis, and I'm proud our partners at CHA are stepping up to provide the specialized care so desperately needed right now," said Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne. "As we continue to implement comprehensive programs and services to support children holistically, this additional inpatient capacity will be a vital resource for youth and families from Somerville and across the region."

"Congratulations to the Cambridge Health Alliance on the opening of the Center for Inpatient Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The data clearly tell us that we are not meeting the mental health and behavioral health needs of our children," said Mass. State Representative Marjorie Decker. "This expansion is an opportunity to save lives and provide care to children when they need it. I'm so grateful for CHA's leadership and feel deeply honored to be part of state efforts that have made this expansion possible. This is coming on the heels of an historic children's mental health bill that the House of Representatives passed yesterday."

"Cambridge Health Alliance continues to deliver health supports for the Commonwealth's most vulnerable through compassionate, culturally sensitive, evidence-based, and trauma-informed care," said Mass. State Representative Christine Barber. "Building upon the child and adolescent psychiatry expansions, the new Neurodevelopmental Unit provides children and adolescents with autism, intellectual or neurological disabilities the care they need, to improve adaptive living skills, communication and quality of life. As a member of the Autism Commission, this is an issue I care deeply about. Thank you to Dr. Sayah and every person at CHA who continues to make a difference and deliver world-renowned care."

"The opening of this expansion is a great step towards addressing critical needs for Massachusetts families," said Mass. State Senator Patricia Jehlen. "Young people kept in emergency rooms waiting for placements suffer additional traumas and this will allow them to receive the treatments they need."

"Addressing the pressing mental health needs of our youth and families is one of my top priorities," said Mass. State Senator Sal DiDomenico. "Cambridge Health Alliance is known for its excellent behavioral health and wellness care, and today's announcement of new specialized inpatient services for children and adolescents will be an invaluable resource. I'm incredibly grateful to have their services in our communities."

CHA will continue to work closely with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services to implement and expedite this plan.

On Friday, June 17, CHA held an opening celebration, with local, state, and federal officials, including Mass. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders and U.S. Senator Edward Markey, on hand to mark this milestone.

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Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health system committed to providing high-quality care in Cambridge, Somerville and Boston's metro-north communities. CHA has expertise in primary care, specialty care and mental health/substance use services, as well as caring for diverse and complex populations. It includes two hospital campuses, a network of primary care and specialty practices and the Cambridge Public Health Dept. CHA patients have seamless access to advanced care through the system's affiliation with Beth Israel Lahey Health. CHA is a Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate and is also affiliated with Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Tufts University School of Medicine.

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