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Things are looking up

Mary McLeod is a past chair of the Regions Hospital Foundation board and a member of the committee raising funds for the new mental health facility. She shared this story at the groundbreaking celebration on June 28, 2011, and in a letter to the editor of the Pioneer Press.

Mary Mcleod

Thirteen years ago, I was awakened by a 2 a.m. phone call from my 21-year-old son, Matt. He was away at college in another state working toward an engineering degree but dropped out when he became depressed. Now, he was clearly delusional.

Thus began an ordeal, for him and our family, of getting him to a hospital for evaluation, keeping watch over him for seven months until he was well enough to travel back to Minnesota and finding psychiatric care for him when he arrived. Five times over the next several years, Matt became a danger to himself and was admitted to Regions Hospital.

Our family could have taken him anywhere, but we chose Regions; not because it is an attractive facility — it is emphatically in need of a new one— but because of its deep commitment to psychiatric care both at the hospital and throughout HealthPartners system of clinics.

Regions current mental health facility is housed in a former nurses’ dorm built more than 40 years ago. It is drab, with unwelcoming lobbies, narrow hallways, antiseptic rooms and small common areas. There is little private space for discussions between family members and doctors. Little about the facility itself says, “These patients are important to us.” And yet, we know they are.

While mental health units in Twin Cities hospitals are frequently at or near capacity, many have been trending toward maintaining, reducing, or eliminating their mental health beds. Regions, however, has actually increased its mental health capacity by setting aside 11 beds for crisis care in its ER and adding 16 beds for short stays in the main building. It has little or no financial incentive to do this, as other medical units generate more positive income and less charitable care. One can only assume they do it to meet the urgent need.

Regions current mental health facility has served its purpose, but it’s time to replace it. The hospital and its parent organization, HealthPartners, has recently announced plans to build a new, eight-story mental health facility carefully designed to meet the real needs of patients. It will be welcoming, beautiful and highly functional— something all of its patients deserve.

The early course of Matt’s mental illness, as often happens, was confusing and frustrating for all of us. Eventually he was diagnosed with schizophrenia with depression and has gradually stabilized to the point where he can once again enjoy his life. His kind, lovable personality has returned. Life for him is not easy, but it is now tolerable and improving. I’m fiercely proud of his determination to work with his providers and, ultimately, to survive. None of us can understand what an enormous achievement this has been for him.

For five years and counting, there have been no more hospitalizations, no crisis, no deep despair. We hope he will never again need the safe haven of a Regions’ mental health bed, but if he should, it is comforting to know those new rooms will soon bear closer resemblance to a residential setting than a state institution— and, after all, why shouldn’t they?