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The new Summa Health behavioral health facility will soon welcome its first patients.
The Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, a seven-story building on the Akron City Hospital campus at 45 Arch St., will consolidate care and replace inpatient and outpatient mental health and behavioral health services at the aging St. Thomas Hospital, also near downtown Akron.
The first patients will be transferred from St. Thomas to the new facility on Jan. 24 with the transition being completed by Jan. 25. The construction took 20 months to complete.
“This new building will essentially provide a new home for all of the behavioral health services that are currently housed at St. Thomas Hospital,” with some additional space for some new programming, said Dr. Joseph Varley, chair of the Summa Health Department of Psychiatry.
“This was a bold move by this organization to put this building here,“ he said. “It really gives the message that behavioral health and mental health are important and it’s part of this system’s commitment to helping people.”
Summa is hosting a free community open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14. The event will include tours of the facility. Free parking can be found at one of the nearby hospital parking decks.
The 159,000-square-foot facility is an $84 million total investment by the Akron-based health system. That includes about $64 million in new construction costs. It stands on the site of the former school of nursing, which had not been used in several years.
The new building will house outpatient and inpatient programs. Those include mental health services such as outpatient psychiatry, inpatient behavioral health, inpatient geriatric behavioral health and the Traumatic Stress Center.
There also will be addiction treatment services, including partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. Hospital-based detox services will be located across the bridge in the main hospital.
The first floor has outpatient offices, a conference center, a nondenominational faith center and the Heritage Center, a nod to the history of St Thomas.
The second floor houses outpatient offices and services. The third floor is open right now and the fourth through seventh floors provide 64 all-private inpatient hospital beds.
St. Thomas has 69 behavioral health beds in semi-private rooms, Varley said. But beds sometimes go unused to give certain patients privacy.
Because the new facility offers all private rooms, there will be an opportunity to provide care for more patients, he said.
There is a geriatric floor for older patients who often have issues with depression, anxiety and cognitive concerns.
Additionally, a dual-diagnosis unit will treat patients who have addiction difficulties as well as mental-health concerns. Two general adult units will allow caregivers to group patients based on their ability to engage and participate in care, Varley said.
History acknowledged in new facility
The Heritage Center, located on the ground floor, is dedicated to preserving the history of St. Thomas Hospital and particularly its ties to the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous.
St. Thomas was home to the nation’s first hospital-based unit to treat alcoholism. The unit — called Ignatia Hall — was founded in 1939 by Sister M. Ignatia of St. Thomas Hospital and the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and Dr. Bob Smith, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“It is very intentional to recognize that is our history and the history of St. Thomas,” said Varley of the Heritage Center in the new building.
Two stained-glass windows from the chapel, titled “To visit the sick” and “To feed the hungry,” were removed from the chapel at St. Thomas Hospital, restored and installed in the ground-floor Heritage Center at the new center.
Four glass display cases full of Sister Ignatia and Dr. Bob memorabilia also were moved to the new Summa center.
Much of the rest of the chapel was gifted to St. Vincent St.-Mary High School, including an Italian marble altar, stations of the cross, the remaining stained-glass windows, statues and pews.
New Summa building has private rooms
The new facility was designed from the ground up with behavioral health care in mind, Varley said.
“It is truly state-of-the-art. There are private rooms and the design is created with our purpose in mind,” he said. “So lines of sight are very clear and our nursing station is very centrally located in a way that allows visibility and there’s openness yet privacy in open spaces for patients to congregate as well as quiet spaces.”
Some patient rooms on the top floors offer sweeping views of downtown Akron.
“To me, I think it’s fitting that we’ve given the best part of this building — the top four floors — to those who are suffering the most and in need of the most support and engagement,”‘ Varley said.
In February 2022, Summa dedicated 12 beds in the Akron City Hospital Emergency Department for behavioral health patients. With the addition of the new behavioral health pavilion, those patients can be transported directly from the emergency department through back corridors, if needed, Varley said.
A secure area off a pedestrian bridge from the attached 55 Arch St. parking deck provides visitors with an area to check in before being escorted up to see patients. Similarly, a secure area is in place to check in patients.
The new facility offers separate visitor areas on each inpatient floor, Varley said. That’s an improvement from the current setup at St. Thomas, where the elevators open right into the units, which make it difficult to discreetly separate patients and their visitors from the rest of the patients, he said.
Safety a priority
Significant care has been taken to provide safely for patients and caregivers, Varley said. Any items that can be used to tie or bind have been removed from rooms. Bathrooms have been designed to provide privacy, but without doors for safety.
All windows on inpatient floors are specially designed to withstand 2,000 pounds of force to provide extra safety, said Ed Friedl, vice president of construction and property management.
Employee badge access are needed to get in and out of units, offices and onto the elevator or to enter various floors, Friedl said.
“If we’re creating a space that is safe and secure and everybody knows it, it increases the safety and security for everybody,” Varley said. “If there are significant gaps or vulnerabilities in terms of safety, it will invite people so inclined to test that or to go ahead and do something they might not otherwise do if they know it’s secure.
“Creating a secure environment is actually a way of respecting the patients and creating ultimately a safer place for everyone.”
Working with community partners
Summa has been working with community partners who also provide behavioral health services and will continue to do so, Varley said.
The health system recently entered a contract with Portage Path Behavioral Health, which runs its own Psychiatric Emergency Services care center near St. Thomas, Varley said. Portage Path will provide some behavioral health service and assessment as part of Akron City Hospital’s Emergency Department “in an effort to further integrate and work collaboratively in the crisis space.”
Summa also is working through a program supported by the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board to have coordinators from such community partners as Portage Path Behavioral Health and Community Support Services come into the Summa inpatient units to coordinate cate.
“So we’re looking for ways to effectively link and bring our organizations into more clinical communication coordination,” Varley said. “This unit will only facilitate doing that.”
Helping with statewide goals
The new behavioral health facility will help provide mental health care for more patients, Varley said. That has been a goal of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who recently announced an additional $175 million in mental health infrastructure expansion and workplace development.
Though the new facility was paid for by Summa, “what we do here is very complementary to the public mental health system and to the overall support of behavioral health,” Varley said.
“The fact that we’ve built this building on our main campus to integrate what we do with the rest of the medical services we provide is a bold statement to this organization’s commitment to the whole person,” he said.
What will happen to St. Thomas Hospital?
The future of the St. Thomas building on North Main Street, which is nearly 100 years old, remains unknown. After the mental and behavioral health operations transfer to the new facility and the health system’s wound center moves to a new facility on East Market Street, there remain two tenants. Both of those tenants, a Summa physician and the International Institute, will be vacating by the end of January, Friedl said.
Summa continues to look for a new purpose or owner for the facility, Friedl said, but if one is not found, there is a possibility the building will be razed. That would not happen until the second or third quarter of 2024, he said.
Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Summa behavioral health facility replaces aging St. Thomas in Akron