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Akron Children's to expand youth services
September 25, 2019

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Akron Children's Hospital will undergo a sizable expansion of its youth behavioral health program in the Mahoning Valley by the end of 2019 to address a growing need for those services.

The $2.3 million project at a new space at the hospital's Beeghly Campus will allow it to double the number of patient visits in the region within the first 12 months by expanding existing services and adding new services.

Existing and enhanced outpatient psychiatric and psychotherapy services, as well as a new partial hospitalization program and eventual intensive outpatient program, will be kept in the former Youngstown Hearing and Speech building on Southern Boulevard that Akron Children's has acquired and already has begun to renovate.

It will have nine therapy rooms, an assessment room, group therapy spaces and staff offices.

Intensive services is a "way for the kids to either avoid having to go into the hospital at all by sort of stepping up from outpatient into intensive services or it's a step down from being in the hospital," said Dr. Steven Jewell, director of pediatric psychiatry and psychology for Akron Children's.

Patients in the partial hospital program will attend it five days a week for six hours per day Monday to Friday. The first hour will be school with the rest of the time devoted to therapeutic activities, including psychotherapy and psychiatry, but also expressive therapies such as art, music and yoga. The hospital has a meeting today with Boardman Local Schools officials to discuss providing a teacher for the program.

Once the partial hospital is established, the plan is to add an intensive outpatient program for three nights a week.

"It's a continuum of care where the kids, if they have to be in the hospital, can step down into partial hospital and not have to go right back to school, and spend some time with some more intensive services but going home in the evening," Jewell said. "Then once they are ready to go back to school they can step down into the intensive outpatient program, but come back three evenings a week with us to make sure they are make adequate progress."

The building renovation is expected to be completed and ready for patients Dec. 10. The partial hospitalization program will begin Jan. 7.

The expansion will add about 12 new jobs at the hospital, for which recruiting has begun. Already, two psychiatric nurse practitioners that equal one full-time employee and a full-time therapist have been added.

Akron Children's has about 12 child psychiatrists and is actively looking for more. It's an industry that Jewell said is woefully lacking with about 8,000 across the U.S. when the need calls for closer to 30,000.

"What we can bring to the community is the more intensive services and some of the highly trained professionals that are harder for community agencies to recruit ... and then we can partner with the community agencies to create a system of care that meets the needs of the kids in that community," Jewell said.

Duane Piccirilli, director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said he's looking forward to partnering with Akron Children's on the endeavor.

"Right now, we have a strong behavioral health (program) and they have the inpatient, so we are hoping with the transition in between, it can help the whole continuum of care," Piccirilli said.

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