Behavioral Health | Editorial

Mental health in the United States has been an ever-escalating problem for many years that has now become markedly worse due to the COVID pandemic. Fear, anxiety and isolation stemming from the pandemic exacerbated depression, substance abuse and even the incidence of spousal abuse.

Dr. Michael Lang

In my role as chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health at the Brody School of Medicine and ECU Health, I have seen firsthand the impact a lack of mental health resources can levy on our most vulnerable citizens. Others in our community see and experience it as well, as evidenced by the large turnout and lively conversation at the Mental Health Town Hall hosted by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in Greenville on Feb. 9. The themes and stories shared at the town hall were common, consistent and heartbreaking. I am grateful for the legislators and community members who came together to have an open, honest discussion and we all agree that urgent action is needed.

Emergency departments across the state are overrun with patients in psychiatric distress with few outlets available to provide them help. This has particularly been the case for patients with substance abuse disorders, our elderly and children. I personally have seen so many children in the emergency department that doctors had to treat other conditions in the waiting room. We owe our patients appropriate mental health services in a safe location with qualified professionals who are not only delivering excellent care but training the next generation of providers to take up the mantle of behavioral health care.

To that end, ECU Health’s partnership with Acadia Healthcare to build a new 144-bed freestanding mental health hospital here in eastern North Carolina is a step in the right direction. This facility, scheduled to open in 2025, will provide state-of-the-art care for not only the people of our region but also the entire state. The hospital will house distinct units that will be devoted to the care of specific populations of behavioral health patients. Included will be a geriatric unit, a substance abuse area, a space for those with significant co-morbid medical problems, the intellectually disabled and a 24-bed child/adolescent unit. Within its walls, every evidenced-based treatment available will be utilized to maximize our ability to rehabilitate, stabilize, and allow our patients successful community reentry.

Given the large number of disparate patients with varied diagnosis, the new behavioral health teaching hospital will serve as a training area for physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, occupational therapists, family therapists, substance abuse counselors and more. The hospital will be closely aligned with ECU Health Medical Center for access to the wide array of clinical and diagnostic resources our tertiary care center has to offer.

Our vision is for this facility to serve as a symbol of the commitment we at ECU Health and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine have to provide state of the art care for the people of eastern North Carolina. I am excited to form new partnerships and engage our community leaders to ensure that all citizens, whether they have schizophrenia or opiate use disorder, can live and prosper here in our wonderful region.

Michael Lang, MD, is chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health at the Brody School of Medicine and ECU Health.