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Duke's new mental health center in Durham aims to be 'more conducive to feeling happy'

News & Observer - 4/12/2021

Apr. 12—DURHAM — Duke Health has both expanded and consolidated its treatment of people with mental illness and behavioral health problems with the opening of a new $102.4 million complex at Duke Regional Hospital.

The 112,000-square-foot Duke Behavioral Health Center North Durham replaces smaller facilities at Duke Regional and Duke University hospitals and brings inpatient, outpatient and emergency treatment of mental health issues under one roof. The project also includes 42 private inpatient rooms and increases the number of private rooms in Duke Regional's emergency department from 36 to 49.

The center's opening this week comes as the coronavirus pandemic has increased the need for behavioral health services, both among COVID-19 survivors and those whose lives have been upended by the economic and social disruptions. But planning began several years ago, said Katie Galbraith, president of Duke Regional Hospital.

"We've long recognized that there are significant needs in the community around behavioral health services," Galbraith said during a press conference Monday. "So many people are suffering, often silently, with mental illness."

The behavioral health center is the largest construction project at Duke Regional Hospital since it opened in 1976, Galbraith said. It includes more private outpatient and emergency treatment rooms for mental health than the old hospitals as well as two courtyards and lots of natural light to give it a different feel from the buildings it replaces, said Sara Emory, senior director of Behavioral Health Services for Duke University Health System.

"What we wanted to offer was an experience that was more conducive to feeling happy, to being able to feel the sunshine on your shoulder," Emory said.

Suzanne Mayer, a retired mental health/special education specialist who serves on the Duke Behavioral Health Patient and Family Advisory Council, echoed that sentiment.

"It's so much more welcoming and warm and open than the previous facilities," Mayer said. "And the amount of light and space makes it a much more relaxing, reflective, calm environment."

Duke has about 12,000 outpatient visits a year for behavioral health issues, and about 14 a day to its emergency departments at Duke Regional and Duke University hospitals.

At the press conference, Galbraith was asked about expected operating costs and revenues at the center and when she expected it would be profitable. She said she didn't have those numbers handy but that profit wasn't Duke's goal.

"Behavioral health is a service line that typically breaks even," she replied. "Behavioral health is not a service line where we are working to make a significant profit. This is really about caring for our community. So this is very much a mission-driven initiative and mission-driven project."


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