Mental Health

New Behavioral Health Unit at Mary Greeley nearly doubles inpatient mental health capacity

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Mary Greeley Medical Center’s new, 24-bed behavioral unit is expected to drastically improve the hospital’s mental health services.

As the need for mental health services continued to rise in recent years, Story County’s biggest hospital couldn’t keep up, hampered by Iowa’s limited offerings. Just 995 inpatient psychiatric beds were licensed at 26 hospitals for a state of more than 3 million people, according to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services in November 2022.

Mary Greeley was forced to deny services to more than 2,000 patients last year, often running at capacity. Local physicians still attended to 631 patients in the old unit, an average of 13.4 per day.

The Ames facility previously offered long-term mental health services on a portion of the sixth floor, offering 18 beds. Limited space meant seven rooms housed two beds, sometimes used for just one person.

The entire fourth floor of the south tower is the new home of the behavioral unit, which opens Wednesday.

The floor boasts 20 single rooms, with only two double occupancy rooms, an upgrade director of behavioral services Chris Mayfield said will “really increase our access.”

“I would say we at least doubled our occupancy,” Mayfield said.

A single room in the Behavioral Health Unit at Mary Greeley Medical Center has many safety features to protect the patient and the staff. The new unit offers 24 beds, including 20 single-bed rooms to accommodate more patients at any given time.

Recent bed shortages have forced hospitals to turn away psychiatric patients, with Mary Greeley getting hit hard. An average patient’s length of stay is between six and seven days.

“In the past, we have turned away approximately 300 patients a month,” Mayfield said. “So, definitely increasing that access is the most important thing.”

Behavioral Health Unit offers many safety features

Safety was a top priority as hospital officials designed the unit. From the layout, which provides staff members a good line of sight, to construction details, such as safety screws that eliminate possible ligatures.

With three distinct areas, the behavioral unit has six single rooms for high-acuity patients and six single rooms for those with moderate conditions. The general unit offers eight single rooms and two doubles.

Each room offers a uniform design and a wealth of safety features. The built-in beds have a one-piece, quilted mattress cover and bedspread that are thick enough to discourage use as ligatures.

The rooms also have a large, heavily weighted foam-rubber table, non-ligature fixtures, and breakaway bathroom doors.

The door to each room sounds an automatic alarm if more than two pounds of pressure are applied to the top, which can only be turned off with a key.

Even the plumbing system and drain have been designed to eliminate the potential for self-harm, Mayfield said.

Water can be individually shut off in each room, which Mayfield said is helpful when a patient tries to flood a sink or toilet.

“I really appreciate all the safety features because I think that your patients as well as your staff understand whether they’re someplace that’s safe,” Story County Supervisor Linda Murken during a tour of the new unit. “They’ll see and know they’re safe.”

For patients who want to be out of their rooms but don't want to immerse themselves with a group, a bench in the hallway is an optional place to sit in Mary Greeley's new Behavioral Health Unit.

For patients who want to be out of their rooms but don’t want to immerse themselves with a group, a bench in the hallway is an optional place to sit in Mary Greeley’s new Behavioral Health Unit.

Rooms for therapy, entertainment and quiet time offer

Patient comfort and entertainment were also considered in the design phase. Social areas complete with large TVs and gaming systems were built into the unit, while several bench areas were constructed throughout the hallways,

The benches were recommended by the Mental Health Patient-Family Advisory Council, which had input on the unit’s plan, Mayfield said.

Corners in public areas are rounded, also recommended by the advisory council.

“I really appreciate that you used some of the suggestions from the advisory committee,” Murken said.

Quiet activity rooms were built for patients wanting alone time outside their rooms.

Stations in the moderate-acuity and general areas of the unit allow patients access to drinking water, which frees up staff for other tasks.

Three seclusion rooms with padded walls and floors were built as well. A therapy room will be used for various activities, including group therapy, pet therapy and music therapy.

Currently, 28 nurses, including two administrators, are stationed in the Behavioral Health Unit, seven of which are psychiatric board certified. The staff includes 10 psychiatric assistants, a nurse case worker and two licensed social workers.

With plans to add a mental health therapist soon, the unit employs one psychiatrist and two psychiatric nurse practitioners.

A single room in the Behavioral Health Unit at Mary Greeley Medical Center has many safety features to protect the patient and the staff. The new unit offers 24 beds, including 20 single-bed rooms to accommodate more patients at any given time.

A single room in the Behavioral Health Unit at Mary Greeley Medical Center has many safety features to protect the patient and the staff. The new unit offers 24 beds, including 20 single-bed rooms to accommodate more patients at any given time.

Ronna Faaborg is a reporter for the Ames Tribune. Reach her at rlawless@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Ames Tribune: Safety, comfort highlight new Mary Greeley Behavioral Health Unit

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