Medical Center of Aurora April 17, 2018

Story By:
Ed Sealover
Denver Business Journal

The Medical Center of Aurora is adding 50 beds specifically for behavioral-health patients — one of the largest recent investments in mental health by a hospital in the Denver area.

When the addition is completed, the hospital’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Center — a separate facility several miles from its main campus — will have 128 inpatients beds, as well as a variety of mental-health-focused outpatient services. The new beds will be split between senior citizens, teens, younger children and the general population.

The addition is a response to a boom in requests for these specific functions, said Cindy Meyer, chief operating officer for behavioral health services at TMCA and at its parent company, HealthOne, which is a subsidiary of national hospital-systems giant HCA Healthcare, Inc. (NYSE: HCA).

Increased stressors in daily life have led more people in recent years to seek out behavioral-health services, both of a preventive nature and requiring more serious, around-the-clock care, Meyer said. Also, with a number of celebrities in particular having gone public in recent years with their struggles with depression and other mental-health issues, the stigma is getting lifted around these problems and prompting people to seek help for them rather than just trying to gloss over them.

This multi-million-dollar addition is part of roughly $23 million in investments TMCA has made in its behavioral-health program since 2012. The hospital currently has 78 behavioral-health beds.

“We continue to see the need grow. It does not stop,” Meyer said. “The growth has been off the charts in terms of people trying to access services and get treatment.”

That growth comes even as numerous studies have painted a picture of Denver and Colorado as having insufficient resources to address its population’s behavioral-health needs. Colorado has roughly half as many beds as the state needs, and it ranks in the bottom quartile nationally in terms of psychiatric beds per capita, said Andrew Romanoff, CEO of Mental Health Colorado.

To put those numbers into perspective, Romanoff noted that 88 percent of the roughly 35,000 people each year who are put on 72-hour mental-health holds because they are viewed as a potential threat to themselves or others are released when the holds end — but many receive no follow-up treatment, due partially to the lack of investment made by health systems in this area.

“It’s a big step in the right direction,” Romanoff said of the TMCA expansion. “One of the benefits is to make it easier for folks to get care they need either after or before a crisis.”

Eighteen of the 50 new beds will be dedicated to senior patients, as TMCA officials continue to see a need for early intervention to help with dementia and to teach resiliency techniques to people suffering mental-health problems, Meyer said.

Meanwhile, the hospital will increase the number of beds for adolescents on a seasonal basis, as those needs go up particularly during the heart of the school year, she said. And they will open an eight-bed unit for children ages 4 to 11.

Right now, TMCA has to turn away more than 100 patients each month seeking around-the-clock care because of lack of capacity, Meyer added.