Crisis Control at the Strategic Behavioral Center
Strategic Behavioral Center in Leland gives youth with serious behavioral or mental health problems the tools they need to become successful citizens.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Keith Ketchum
Inside a residential hall at Strategic Behavioral Center in Leland, a sign above a doorway states, “Before you enter, say something you are thankful for.” It’s one of many uplifting and encouraging messages that are scattered throughout the facility.
Strategic Behavioral Center, part of a national network of treatment programs, has been helping kids with serious behavioral or mental health problems since it opened in Leland in 2008. On any given day, the unassuming brick building houses around 92 children who are either part of the center’s Psychiatric Residential Treatment or Acute Psychiatric Inpatient Program. The 72-bed Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) serves male and female adolescents ages 12 to 17. The 10,000-square-foot Acute Psychiatric Inpatient Program is a fairly new addition to the center, having just opened in August 2013. The new hospital provides short-term stabilization for youth ages 5 to 17 who are experiencing a psychiatric emergency such as exhibiting a threat to harm themselves or others or experiencing a mental health emergency such as hallucinations or dangerous, uncontrolled behavior.
The children in the Strategic Behavioral Center’s long-term PRTF program focus on learning to manage their behaviors and improve their social functioning. Generally, these are children who have had recurring serious mental health or behavioral issues that impair their ability to participate in their schools, communities and home environments. A typical length of stay in the PRTF program is about four to six months. During this stay the children learn life skills, social skills and basic values while also attending group, individual, recreational and family therapy and working toward their treatment goals through a point system in which they earn points for positive behaviors and gain privileges.
“Rewards are really successful in motivating these kids,” says Clinical Director Ed Cochard.
The points are totaled up daily and weekly, and the totals are displayed on a large dry-erase board outside of the center’s cafeteria. The children carry a feedback sheet with them throughout the day so they are aware of how they are doing in terms of meeting their goals. They also have an opportunity each week to apply for the next level.
Points can be exchanged for items in the center’s Point Store, which houses specialty shampoos, personal-care items, toys, clothing and books, among other things. Community Liaison Janet Janoski says that this past December all of the Point Store’s coloring books were flying off the shelves. She says she was puzzled about this because the PRTF program’s children range in age from 12 to 17 years old, typically too old to be interested in coloring. She later found out that the patients were using their points to get the coloring books to give out as Christmas presents for their younger siblings.
When a child has attained the highest level and is eligible for discharge, the center holds a graduation ceremony with cap and gown. Matt Doyle, chief executive officer and regional vice president of operations, started a tradition in which each graduating child creates a handprint that gets framed and put in a hallway of the center. Some of the handprints are plain, while others are decorated with glitter and other embellishments. Some contain messages of hope and encouragement to future PRTF students.
“It’s their way of saying, I was here, I succeeded and you can too,” says Doyle.
The center’s new Acute Psychiatric Inpatient facility for children in crisis has room for 20 beds and helps meet a significant demand in the state of North Carolina. There are far more children in need than there are facilities in the state and often these children end up going to emergency rooms and waiting around for days or even weeks until a bed becomes available at a psychiatric facility like this one. According to Janoski, these lengthy emergency room stays may be the least ideal place for healing because often the staff is not trained in the special needs of mental health patients, and the emergency room environment is so chaotic.
How desperate is the need for facilities like this one? This center had its first patient within three hours of opening the doors to the new facility, and all of the beds were full within less than a week. The acute care hospital stays nearly full all the time, as does the PRTF facility.
“We operate at around 99 percent capacity at all times,” says Doyle.
A typical stay in the acute care hospital lasts about 8 to 10 days, and then recommendations are made for care after the child is discharged.
One thing the Strategic Behavioral Center provides is structure for kids who typically do not have structure at home or who have had tumultuous lives. At the center, they know what is expected of them and what to expect.
Janoski tells me that she has seen cases in which a child has made a request to their caseworker that they be sent back to the center.
“It’s says a lot,” she says, “when they are willing to come back.”
The Strategic Behavioral Center’s goal, though, is not to readmit, a point that Doyle stresses. Their hope is to give the children the tools they need to go back out in to the world and be successful.
Contact Leland’s Strategic Behavioral Center
2050 Mercantile Drive NE
Leland Industrial Park