Dell Children’s Medical Center to receive New Mental Health Unit


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Seton | Daily Texan Staff

Seton’s Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas and UT are trying to make mental health care more accessible to children. 

One in five children, aged 13 to 18, live with mental illness according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Seton’s Dell Children’s Medical has announced construction of the Grace Grego Maxwell Mental Health Unit, which will include a 24-bed inpatient unit, a Texas Child Study Center and an outpatient program. 

Sonia Krishna, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Seton’s Dell Children’s Medical and assistant psychiatry professor at Dell Medical School, said current access to mental healthcare is limited but is better in Austin because it is a more developed area. Krishna said that one of the goals of the new unit is to condense mental health care into
one building.

“Right now (patients) go to the emergency room but they often get sent to different hospitals in the community afterwards. Now they’ll be able to stay in one hospital and get care all in one place,” Krishna said.

Nyle Maxwell, a philanthropist in the automobile industry, donated $3 million to fund this new mental health unit. Maxwell said he hopes that his donation will create more inclusive access to mental health care.

“It breaks my heart, but right now children in Central Texas don’t have a dedicated, pediatric-focused inpatient facility where they can immediately go if they suffer a mental health crisis or, better yet, before a crisis,” Maxwell said in a press release.

The outpatient clinic will care for children who do not require hospitalization and include services such as routine checkups. Stephen Strakowski, chair of UT’s Department of Psychiatry said most mental illnesses can be treated in outpatient programs in conjunction with family education. 

The Texas Child Study Center within the center will be a continuation of the Dell Children’s Medical’s outpatient clinic in partnership with UT. The center provides treatment for children with emotional, behavioral and developmental disabilities. It also offers training and research programs for medical students.

The inpatient clinic deals with emergency care such as surgery and lab tests. The new unit will contain both inpatient and outpatient clinics in one area which eases patient care.

“(The new center) will provide an opportunity to not only potentially provide more inpatient beds and an expanded outpatient program, but to also provide a better continuum and quality of care,” Strakowski said. 

The Dell Children’s Medical mainly deals with children who suffer from ailments like suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety, according to Krishna. Child Trends reported that the most common disorders that affect adolescents are those associated with anxiety, closely followed by depression and ADHD. 

“I think the increase in child mental illness says a lot about environmental factors that affect children nowadays,” Krishna said. “We need this coordinated system to treat them.” 

Construction on the new unit will begin within the next six to nine months and is estimated to cost $7 million. The new unit is not only expected to improve care, but set an example as a new model of coordinated care, according to Strakowski.

“As it evolves, the program can set a standard for care of youth in the community,” Strakowski said.“It also brings mental health into the community view to hopefully foster future investments and philanthropy in this critical area of healthcare.”