Healthcare Trailblazer: Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion fosters hope

Laura Newpoff
Dr. David Axelson

Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion, Nationwide Children's Hospital: Healthcare Trailblazer, Columbus CEO Healthcare Achievement Awards 2021

In 2013, Dr. David Axelson and his team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital received an invitation from the board to hear about whether the hospital was meeting the mental health needs of children. The board wanted the hospital to invest in this area to expand inpatient and outpatient services and build more research programming.

Axelson and the planning subcommittee got to work and came up with a proposal to substantially expand services. The board heard them out and encouraged them “to think bigger.”

Stay up to date with the region’s dynamic business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.

Bigger meant a signature building housing a program that would be designed to break the stigma around mental health and represent how important this area of care is to a child’s overall health. Axelson and his team would hit the road and visit other programs across the country to gather ideas. They were particularly impressed with Bellevue Hospital in New York, which had integrated acute services, a psychiatric emergency program, inpatient services and partial hospitalization. While Nationwide Children’s had robust outpatient services, those other areas of care were lacking.

In 2016, Columbus retailer Big Lots announced a $50 million gift to the hospital to support the construction of the pavilion. In 2020, seven years after that board invitation, the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion at Nationwide Children’s Hospital opened at the downtown campus. It features inpatient services, intensive outpatient services, a psychiatric crisis department and research under one roof. It was designed to offer an experience that breaks the stigma around mental health treatment and its look mirrors the main hospital to offer hope and optimism and to ensure a consistent experience for patients during their healthcare journey.

More:See all Healthcare Achievement winners 2021

“There was an attention to design and to safety, yet still maintaining the warmth and light and playfulness of a children’s hospital,” says Axelson, chief of the department of psychiatry and behavioral health.

Integrated care

According to Nationwide Children’s, the pavilion helps meet a growing need—11 percent of children ages eight to 11 and 22 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 have a mental illness. And the timing of the pavilion’s debut couldn’t have been better as the national mental health crisis has been exacerbated by the continuation of Covid-19.

Features of the pavilion include:

  • A psychiatric crisis department with nine assessment rooms and a 10-bed extended observation suite that allows for time to determine if a patient should be admitted to a higher level of care.
  • A 12-bed youth crisis stabilization unit for intensive mental health treatment. A study has shown this care model has significantly helped decrease suicides.
  • Inpatient psychiatry units. The pavilion will ramp up to house 48 patient beds and will have a unit for patients with intellectual and developmental diagnoses.
  • A gym, fitness room, play deck and outdoor courtyards.
  • Common gathering spaces to allow patients and families to interact during group therapy.
  • Intensive outpatient programs, including the mood and anxiety program, family-based intensive treatment, outpatient general psychiatry and the Critical Assessment and Treatment Clinic.
  • The Center for Suicide Prevention and Research.
  • Comfort rooms, a sanctuary and quiet alcoves with views of nature and natural light provide places of respite. More than 10,000 people donated to Project S.N.A.P. to create inspirational artwork for the pavilion.

“Having all the different levels of care—crisis to outpatient—located in the same building is important,” Axelson says. “Everything in one building allows for a shorter and safer transition between levels of care.”

A desperate need

The hospital also rolled out a stigma-breaking campaign called “On Our Sleeves” to give families the resources they need to help kids cope during this challenging time. Axelson says it’s meant to provide structure for kids to be comfortable talking to parents and parents to be comfortable talking to kids about mental health.

“There are really nice educational materials around maintaining mental health and wellness (so we’re) thinking about that prevention aspect,” he says. “It’s helping everybody think about the fact that mental health conditions are no more stigmatizing than physical health conditions. It’s all part of our overall health.”

In nomination materials for the Healthcare Achievement Award, Erika Clark Jones, CEO of the Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, wrote: “With the opening of (the pavilion) and their national anti-stigma campaign, On Our Sleeves, Nationwide Children’s stepped forward in a new way to prioritize the needs of mental wellness for our community’s children. This home to integrated behavioral health services was created with community engagement to meet the needs of families. Most notably was the expansion of available beds for those who need an inpatient level of care – something desperately needed in our community.”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.

Size: 386,000 square feet, nine stories

Experience: Faculty appointments and positions since 1972 including at the Boston University School of Medicine; University of California, San Francisco; Ohio State University; University of Washington and Vanderbilt University. Hospital appointments include Boston City Hospital, San Francisco General Hospital, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Opened: March 2020

Features: Gift shop, courtyards, training rooms, sanctuary, gym, outdoor play deck, inpatient units, Ronald McDonald family room, observation suite, research space, youth crisis stabilization unit