OU Health broke ground and kicked off a capital fundraising campaign Wednesday, Nov. 1, for a new pediatric Behavioral Health Center, an innovative facility where Oklahoma youth will receive the highest quality of treatment and support for mental and behavioral health conditions.
The facility, called the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health Behavioral Health Center, will provide inpatient and outpatient services, delivered in a setting designed for family participation and healing. It will be the only such facility in the state that is part of a comprehensive children’s hospital and will be located adjacent to Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health.
Oklahoma ranks 33rd in the nation for providing access to mental health services and support, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people ages 10 to 24 in Oklahoma. The 172,775-square-foot, three-story facility will serve a critical role in the state, with two floors dedicated to inpatient services. It will have 72 beds for short-term stabilization and long-term care.
The Behavioral Health Center is projected to be fully operational by December 2026. Oklahoma Children’s Hospital will also open a 10-bed emergency room expansion in February 2024.
“Oklahoma children are experiencing a mental and behavioral health crisis, and as the state’s flagship academic health system, OU Health is dedicated to increasing our services to meet that need,” said Richard Lofgren, M.D., MPH, president and CEO of OU Health. “Our health professionals are highly specialized with access to advanced treatments and resources that often aren’t found elsewhere. Care is driven by research discoveries and delivered by multidisciplinary teams who leverage their combined expertise to provide an enhanced level of care.”
The Behavioral Health Center reimagines the delivery of care to children and adolescents. For patients receiving inpatient care, parents can stay in the room with their child, a patient- and family-centered option not available anywhere else in Oklahoma. Partial hospitalization services and intensive outpatient services will also be offered, and the facility will house a gymnasium and several outdoor and garden spaces to enhance the healing process. Each area is designed to provide comfort, convenience and safety for families and staff.
“The creation of the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health Behavioral Health Center is a major achievement for the state,” said Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt, who will serve as the honorary chair for Behavioral Health Center capital campaign to raise and secure $35 million in philanthropic support.
“Many patients and families simply cannot find the care they need in Oklahoma right now. The Behavioral Health Center will fill that gap by providing access and the expertise to treat a range of conditions. The State of Oklahoma is proud to play a role in the launch of the Behavioral Health Center. Together, we will ensure that Oklahoma’s children — our most precious resources — can access high-quality care,” Stitt said.
One in five Oklahoma youth struggles with mental health issues, and children from every background and economic status can be affected. The mental health crisis has worsened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is often amplified by factors like social media use and trauma in a child’s home.
“I am proud to have been part of the team bringing this much-needed center to life,” said Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah. Together, we will ensure that Oklahoma’s children can access high-quality mental and behavioral healthcare.”
Many families in Oklahoma have difficulty finding services for their children. Some organizations decline to accept youth with complex conditions or additional medical complications, and some do not accept patients covered by SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Other organizations have waitlists up to eight weeks long. At Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, healthcare providers see the need daily when patients and families come to the emergency room seeking help.
“In 2007, our hospital treated one to two patients each month who were experiencing a mental health crisis so severe that they considered suicide. Today, our teams are seeing a patient with suicidal ideation during every shift,” said Robyn Cowperthwaite, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital. “Many children need a longer and more robust level of care than we can provide in the hospital. The new Behavioral Health Center will be a place where children can receive the specialized care that they need, whether that is a short inpatient stay, long-term treatment, or intensive outpatient care.”
Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, said mental health is one of the top crises affecting our youth. “We know we must act, come together and do what’s right for the future of our children and for Oklahoma,” he said.
As part of an academic health system, the Behavioral Health Center will also serve as a premier training facility for future healthcare providers who are seeking a career in a mental health field.
As the academic partner of OU Health, the University of Oklahoma plays a leading role in educating the future healthcare workforce of Oklahoma, graduating more health professionals than any other institution in the state.
“The University of Oklahoma has educated generations of health care professionals who have uplifted the health of our state, and sustaining this longstanding tradition remains one of our foremost responsibilities,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “OU is proud to play a role in the Behavioral Health Center, where our students will gain invaluable clinical experience to prepare them to serve a great need in our state as the mental and behavioral health care professionals of tomorrow.”
Education partnerships with the OU College of Medicine, the Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing, the Anne and Henry Zarrow College of Social Work and various graduate programs at The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences will allow students to receive clinical training in evidence-based healthcare while working with OU Health professionals in a premier facility. These students will go on to serve as psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioral health nurses, social workers and other healthcare professionals.
The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences is also partnering with OU Health to develop a Nurse Practitioner program emphasizing Behavioral Health.
The Behavioral Health Center will cost approximately $140.6 million. The Oklahoma state Legislature has committed $19.8 million in general revenue and facilitated $39.4 million in federal funds. In addition, the University Hospitals Authority and Trust has committed $46.4 million.
“We are grateful to our Legislature for their financial support of this much-needed facility and for the vision and expertise of so many who’ve committed time, financial resources and ideas to bring this center to life,” said Rainey Williams Jr., University Hospitals Authority and Trust Board Chair and OU Health Board of Directors Chair.
Additionally, philanthropic giving from the Gaylord Family Foundation, Devon Energy, the Presbyterian Health Foundation and the Robert Glenn Rapp Foundation has helped lay the groundwork for the campaign.
“Together, we are laying the bricks for a facility that will provide our youth with the care they need so that they can see a bright future ahead of them,” Lofgren said. “We will not turn away any patient in need, and we believe our approach will radically improve the treatment and care coordination for young people with mental health needs.”
To learn more about the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health Behavioral Health Center, and to take part in the capital giving campaign, visit OklahomaChildrens.org/SoaringSpirits.