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Psychiatric hospital design caters to patient populations

April 21, 2016
by Julia Brown
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North Tampa Behavioral Health, a 53,000 square foot, 75 bed acute psychiatric hospital located in Wesley Chapel, Fla., opened in October 2013 under Acadia Healthcare. Built to help the people of Pasco and surrounding counties with mental health issues—including veterans—the project took more than eight months from start to finish.

“Acadia purchased the certificate of need and the building about halfway through construction,” says Abbey Brown, director of business development, North Tampa Behavioral Health. JJCA Architects were used and the general contractor was Deangelis Diamond Health Care Group, according to Acadia leadership.

New construction—tentatively scheduled for a January 2017 completion—will expand the facility to 80,500 square feet and accommodate more patients with 48 additional beds in a double-decker unit. Other additions will include a state-of-the-art training area and the doubling of North Tampa’s outpatient and partial hospitalization sections.

“We’re situated on 24 acres of mostly wetlands and conservation, and only 12.2 acres are developmental areas, so we’ve had to be very cognizant when talking about construction,” says Brown. “Florida has very interesting environmental laws, and of course we want to make sure we’re respecting the conservation area. It’s a great therapeutic setting, but it has definitely been challenging.”

Patient entry

In Florida, involuntary hospitalization for psychiatry is allowed under the Baker Act of 1971, so law enforcement can admit those who are at risk to themselves or others to North Tampa. The facility also accepts those with substance use disorders that have been ordered to treatment under the Marchman Act of 1993.

“A voluntary patient can come through our front foyer—which has full windows, a nice desk, large ceilings, and is very aesthetically pleasing—and feel safe and secure, but we also have a side entrance with an ambulance bay if someone needs to be brought directly to the floor or has more intense psychiatric needs,” says Brown.

North Tampa’s 75 beds are divided into three separate units that are identical in appearance. Unit A is specifically for acute, chronically and persistently mentally ill patients; unit B houses North Tampa’s 28-day substance abuse program and a military and veteran program, CORE; and unit C is for voluntary patients with depression and anxiety.

Brown says putting a 75-year-old patient with dementia in the same unit as a 25-year-old, suicidal transgender patient, for example, would not be an ideal mix, which is why North Tampa is mindful of its patient populations and separates them within the space.  

“We’re a unique entity because we stand alone. We don’t have an emergency room—we’re just a psychiatric hospital,” she says. “A lot of other psychiatric hospitals have been renovated which can cause challenges, but being built from the ground up has provided us with some flexibility, and we’re able to offer a more controlled environment based on our milieu.”

Safety and aesthetics 

For safety reasons, Brown says, when patients first come in to be assessed, they must enter through a locked door where they’re put into a waiting room. Additionally, all doors on each unit are two-way and can be pushed from any direction in order to prevent patients from barricading themselves in a room.

Similarly, North Tampa’s intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization program is connected to the rest of the building, but sits securely on its own side with a separate entrance and parking lot; access is gained by swiping in and out.

Brown says that for safety reasons, appropriate lighting must be used throughout the facility at all times. At night, hallway lights are dimmed, but nurses must be able to see from down the hall.  However, patients can still appreciate natural lighting and views of the outdoors on their units.

“On each unit, there’s a couple of offices as well as a large group area and group rooms with windows that go from your waist to the ceiling—and our ceilings are very high,” Brown says. “Patients can look out over our conservation land and get light and Florida sunshine.”
The facility also features laminate flooring throughout, which Brown says, makes it feel more upscale.

“Part of therapeutic thought processes is the environment you’re in, and North Tampa is a very calming facility that doesn’t feel or smell like a hospital,” she says. “I live in this community and at my kid’s school people have said ‘oh, that’s a hospital? I thought it was a hotel.’”

North Tampa’s grounds feature a full basketball court and a quarter-mile walking trail, and patients can enjoy the outdoors up to six times a day. The facility also has a full indoor gym.

“When you think about mind, body, and spirit, exercise is important,” says Brown. “We have a full recreation therapy staff and try to move them throughout the facility so they’re not just stuck on the unit.” 

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