Backus to open behavioral health crisis unit

·2 min read

Aug. 19—NORWICH — Backus Hospital officials are eager to open a newly built behavioral health crisis unit in the hospital's Emergency Department, a 10-bed facility administrators, physicians and nurses said Friday is much needed and long overdue.

The $2.4 million, 3,740-square-foot unit could start accepting patients as soon as the end of the month.

Reporters toured the new unit Friday following a press conference.

Colleen Desai, vice president of patient care services at Backus, said a multidisciplinary team spent years planning the unit, beginning well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated mental health needs across the country.

"We'd been listening to what the community needs ― more behavioral health care that's safer and more dignified," Desai said. "This benefits the staff, too. It'll be a safer place to practice."

The unit features 10 private rooms, including one equipped for isolation. The rooms have an array of safety measures, including surveillance cameras; doors that open in either direction; "panic" buttons; quick-disconnect shower wands; dimmable lighting; recessed TV screens, blanket warmers; ice machines; refrigerators; and fire extinguishers.

"This has been a long time coming for me," said Melissa Oloff, a Backus nurse for more than 15 years.

Jim O'Dea, senior vice president of Hartford HealthCare's Behavioral Health Network, said the new unit will enable Backus to better respond to a burgeoning behavioral health crisis.

"For every 10 people who would benefit (from behavioral health care), less than four get it," he said. "There is a compelling need in eastern Connecticut."

Noting he spent 25 years practicing clinical psychology at Backus, O'Dea said he cared for "hundreds if not thousands of patients in this space."

"There was a time," he said, "when the physical space left something to be desired."

Dr. Kyle McClaine, chief of emergency services at Backus, acknowledged that the behavioral health needs of the community "skyrocketed" amid COVID-19 and in the pandemic's aftermath.

"It's the world we live in," he said. "Anxiety, depression, domestic violence, substance abuse ― they've all increased."

McClaine said pressures associated with social-media use and hybrid learning schedules have led to some unforeseen behavioral health issues among adolescents.

He also said the privacy afforded by the new unit is important.

"It's hard to describe your worst day with someone else listening on the other side of a drawn curtain," he said. "We think the new space will make patients more willing to come forward."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com