Grand Rapids-based Pine Rest, founded in 1910, is a behavioral health provider that also operates outpatient locations across West Michigan. Courtesy Pine Rest
Three years ago, Mark Eastburg began to have conversations with West Michigan leaders about how Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services could improve the surrounding community.
Initially, Eastburg expected to hear the hospital should expand its standard adult mental health programming. But instead, after conversations with Pine Rest’s community partners, other hospitals, and the Sheriff’s Department, among others, the president and CEO of Pine Rest was surprised to hear a strong chorus calling for additional inpatient services for adolescents and young adults.
Eastburg said last year that Pine Rest had to turn away almost as many adolescents and young adults as it admitted due to lack of space. A $12.4-million expansion at the Van Andel Center on Pine Rest’s Cutlerville campus, which includes a 26-bed adolescent and young-adult unit and updates the hospital entrance and contact center, addresses the issue.
“We start with a community focus, we want to make sure that everyone in Michigan has access to the finest behavioral health services anywhere, and this is another step in that direction,” Eastburg said. “If a family has to call 10 places to find an open inpatient bed for their son or daughter, that’s not doing that. So, solving the access problem through programs and units like this positions us to better address psychiatric care issues in the state.”
The Cypress Unit opened to patients on July 5 and is expected to serve more than 1,200 adolescents and young adults annually, which Eastburg said is the exact amount of patients that were turned away last year.
“We heard loud and clear; we really need more services for kids in Grand Rapids, especially inpatient services,” Eastburg said. “So, this project is all about listening to the community and responding to those community conversations.”
The unit was designed to “flex,” allowing it to be split into two sides and provide more specialized treatment options for the separate age groups. In addition to the 26 beds, the 26,600-square-foot patient wing includes a technology room, a pair of state-of-the-art sensory rooms, a gym and intentional design that creates a “safe and inviting” environment for the patients.
Natural light and open space was incorporated throughout the new wing, and each patient room is outfitted with new furniture, a full bathroom, adjustable lighting and an intercom system that can be set to play music or white noise. Ten of the beds were obtained from the state via an application for available flex beds and 16 were purchased from Sparrow Carson Hospital.
Psychiatry Residency Program Associate Director Vegas Coleman will oversee the new unit, which also will house expanded services for the residency program.
“The thing I think is this gives us a lot of variety, it gives us tools that we haven’t had before,” Coleman said. “We’ve had sensory rooms, but these are even more thoughtfully designed, and really, the entire expansion was really a very thoughtful endeavor. It wasn’t done haphazardly, it wasn’t done just looking at the budget itself or the number of beds itself; they really wanted to look at everything and they've done a great job.”
Coleman said the new unit will be key, as Pine Rest looks to further assist adolescent and young adult patients, whose needs and outcomes often significantly differ from those of adult patients. He cited a 45 percent high school completion rate for students dealing with serious emotional disturbances and a 42 percent employment rate compared to 66 percent of the general population.
“The fact that, when you look at people transition-aged, sometimes through no fault of their own, they’re suffering from an inability to move on from a developmental stage,” Coleman said. “And because they’re not moving forward, they’re feeling stagnated, and that can lead to a lot of despair, hopelessness, depression and even suicide. When we’re able to bring those patients here, it increases their odds of doing better.”
He added the expanded residency program will bring more young, talented residents to Pine Rest, further strengthening the hospital and addressing a deep need for more psychiatrists and behavioral health professionals felt not just in West Michigan but across the industry as a whole.
“We know that 60 to 80 percent of residents trained in that state will remain in that state, and that’s going to make a huge impact on Michigan,” Coleman said. “This unit is going to be a showpiece in a way that they’ll come see this and what we’re doing and want to be a part of it.”
For Eastburg, the unit represents Pine Rest’s commitment to improving the overall health of West Michigan by listening to the community’s needs and spending time and resources to address them. While it likely will be years before the full impact of the expansion is realized, Eastburg hopes that it will result in fewer returning patients.
“Ultimately, it isn’t about filling beds, it’s about getting kids and young adults back into the community to getting jobs, finishing their educations and being a part of healthy families,” he said. “For us, that would be the real indicator of success is raising the bar of community health.”