North Central Health Care youth psychiatric hospital will keep care closer to home

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Soon, youth in crisis needing inpatient care will be able to get it closer to home. North Central Health Care is in the process of building Wisconsin's first county-owned youth psychiatric hospital on its main campus in Wausau.

A rendering of North Central Health Care's new youth psychiatric hospital gives a peek at what the final buildings will look like.

Earlier this month NewsChannel 7 reported some of the data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the Marathon County LIFE Report, which found 15% of Marathon County high school teens have considered suicide, 11% had a plan, and 7% attempted to end their life.

Currently, if a child in Marathon, Lincoln, or Langlade counties (the counties that support North Central Health Care) is a harm to themself or others, or if they fit any of the other criteria listed here, they will be taken to the crisis center at NCHC. The crisis center can provide short-term and outpatient services.

If they need anything beyond that, specifically inpatient care, youth are taken to facilities like Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh, which is the closest facility of its kind.

"Currently, we're sending about 4-6 on average per day out to other state institutes because we only have an adult psychiatric hospital so anybody below 18 has to go to another facility," Michael Loy, CEO of North Central Health Care said.

He said that is the reason why the three counties decided it was important to build a facility onto their existing Wausau campus.

"There's [sic] implications in the cost of the care and then the transportation to the other institutes. For us, that's at least a 90-minute drive either way," he said.

Area law enforcement officers are the ones to transport these youth, which is costly in both time and expenses for those agencies and the county.

Loy said teens are often spending about seven days at inpatient care facilities too, making the situation challenging not only for the teen in crisis but their family as well.

"Families are in crisis at the same time their children are in crisis and so providing the necessary supports and structure and environment for them to take care of the crisis situation here in this community and then get them into a really therapeutic environment in their home community is key for us," Loy said.

The new hospital will have two buildings that will look like large homes. The facility will have eight bedrooms for patients and will serve teens age 13-17, but can serve younger kids on a case-by-case basis. The facility will be secure and provide all services youth will need on campus.

NCHC already has inpatient psychiatric care for adults. Loy said for many years they would allow adolescences to be treated in the adult facility. He explained while they can do that safely, they prefer not to mix adults and youth in the same facility and made the decision a few years ago to stop doing that.

In 2017, Loy said NCHC looked at its almost 50-year-old campus to do "a master facility planning process to look at the campus as a whole and to redefine its care environments." He said part of that was expanding programming specifically for youth. They determined they could build a facility just for youth and do it without raising the tax levy.

The project is expected to be done with construction by late summer. They are still in the process of hiring staff. Loy said there is a need for mental health and addiction specialists, specifically centered around youth. He said they have hired one, but they are hoping to have two physicians seven days a week with roughly 12-24 staff members total.