Children as young as 6 who have mental illness or suicidal thoughts now have a place to get inpatient mental health care in Wichita.
KVC Hospitals Wichita, a 54-bed children’s psychiatric hospital, opened July 15 in the former Kansas Orthopedic Center at 1507 W. 21st St. It is run by the nonprofit KVC Hospitals system, which operates children’s psychiatric hospitals in Hays and Kansas City, Kan., and a treatment facility in Kansas City, Mo.
Like its two Kansas counterparts, KVC Hospitals Wichita provides acute inpatient treatment for youth ages 6 to 18 who struggle with suicidal thoughts, feelings of violence, depression, substance abuse and more. It has already had patient admissions, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Before KVC Hospitals Wichita opened, the area had limited mental health inpatient options for adolescents and teens and no option for children.
Ascension Via Christi Behavioral Health Center, a unit within the Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph hospital, has 14 beds to treat adolescents ages 12-17, according to Robyn Chadwick, an Ascension Via Christi vice president and service line leader for behavioral health. It also offers two outpatient treatment programs for teens.
Both KVC Hospitals and Ascension Via Christi accept insured and uninsured patients, according to respective hospital officials.
Wesley Healthcare doesn’t offer inpatient pediatric or youth psychiatric services, according to a spokeswoman there.
“As a provider, I am so excited about the increase in available care,” said Nicole Klaus, associate professor with the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita who specializes in child and adolescent psychology. She is also part of the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Coalition.
“For so many years, we’ve seen kids sent out of the city or state, and for younger kids there wasn’t an option locally. It’s better to keep kids in their home community where their family can participate in their treatment,” Klaus said.
More than 800 children from Wichita and the surrounding area were hospitalized at KVC Hospitals’ two other Kansas facilities between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, said Blythe Hinderliter, KVC Hospitals’ marketing and communications director. The year before, more than 700 children from the area had been hospitalized.
The need for mental health care is rising nationwide. Reports say there has been a 40 percent overall increase in psychiatric visits nationally to emergency rooms in recent years and a shortage of available beds for acute inpatient treatment. There’s been a 30 percent increase in the U.S. suicide rate between 2000 and 2016, according to the American Psychological Association.
Sedgwick County’s suicide rate continues to rise, as well. In 2018, the county’s average suicide rate was a record 19.66 deaths per 100,000 people, Klaus said. That’s higher than national and state averages.
The limited inventory of children’s psychiatric beds in Kansas has caused KVC Hospitals in the past to turn away families who’ve needed to hospitalize their children.
“Over the last couple of years, KVC Hospitals has had to deny admissions to thousands of youth who have been referred to our facilities, due to limited capacity,” Hinderliter responded in an email. On the KVC Hospitals website, it said 2,000 kids were turned away last year.
The new Wichita hospital will have the capacity to treat thousands of kids annually, Hinderliter said.
KVC Hospitals renovated and expanded the 30,000-square-foot building that was previously the Kansas Orthopedic Center. It added 2,000 square feet to accommodate a multipurpose area that includes a dining room and gymnasium, said Hinderliter.
The hospital construction is the result of a fundraising campaign KVC Hospitals conducted to meet a $1 million challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation of Tulsa. Of the total project goal of $8.5 million, KVC has secured a total of $7.3 million toward the goal, Hinderliter said.
The hospital is expected to have about 150 employees. Juston White, who was the executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas for nearly five years, is the hospital’s executive director.
Children can be referred by hospitals, emergency rooms, community health centers, schools, law enforcement and parents or guardians if they need care at the hospital, Hinderliter said, but it takes approval from a parent or guardian to admit the patient. The hospital has a separate secure entrance for emergency transport vehicles.