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A new facility is meeting the mental health needs of children in crisis in Louisiana.

Children’s Hospital New Orleans (CHNOLA), Louisiana’s first and largest freestanding children’s hospital, opened a 51-bed behavioral health center in 2020, offering comprehensive mental and behavioral health services to kids ages 7 to 17. It’s one of the largest pediatric programs in the country and the only psychiatric program in the Gulf Coast region exclusively dedicated to the mental healthcare needs of children and adolescents in crisis.

“Mental and behavioral health is a national crisis in terms of what we have available for our children,” says Mark Ranatza, RN, director of behavioral health at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. “We’re really trying to stand in the gap and be there for all these families and provide not only the inpatient level of care but also outpatient services to complement.” 

The new five floor, 70,000 square feet behavioral health center, which opened in April 2020, provides acute inpatient care in a safe, structured, and nurturing environment. Outpatient services include assessment and treatment of psychiatric behavioral disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and mood disturbance. 

CHNOLA’s program includes a full psychiatric assessment by a board-certified child-and-adolescent psychiatrist, support for families through the acute crisis period, and family meetings and assistance with coordinating follow-up care. Children get creative and heal through daily therapeutic programming like playing drums, painting and sculpture, as well as yoga. 

Early intervention

One in 5 children have a significantly impairing mental disorder but less than half get the treatment they need. That’s why CHNOLA’s launched its High 5 Project, a community-wide movement to meet the mental health needs of children in Louisiana.

It’s essential to help kids when they’re first dealing with mental and behavioral health concerns, including anxiety, depression, and more.

“Let’s identify these children when they’re young, let’s get them to where we can help them early and provide the support they need so that they can be successful,” says Ranatza.

Throughout the pandemic, more kids have struggled with mental health. Ranatza says that kids need help with coping skills, especially now when they haven’t seen their peers or participated in typical activities, such as after-school programs. CHNOLA’s has partnered with local school counselors and hosts regular webinars and workshops on pediatric mental health.

Ranatza cautions families not to delay a child’s diagnosis or treatment, since doing so could result in “a crisis situation,” as well as emergency room visits and inpatient hospitalizations. Don’t be afraid to talk about it, and to seek help.

To learn more about Children’s Hospital New Orleans’ behavioral health services visit chnola.org/behavioralhealth.

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