Patients of the Behavioral Health Education Facility at the University of Washington Medical Center-Northwest Campus will get fresh air on sunny terraces and decks (at least in sunny months), sleep in private secured bedrooms, and spend afternoons in a sensory, therapeutic space experience.
They will meet residents, interns, and other medical staff in spacious treatment areas designed with teaching in mind—many of the state’s next generation of mental health providers will train here.
The new state-supported mental health education facility is among many others nationwide that herald a new era of inpatient mental health treatment—one that uses deliberate design to support the therapeutic needs of those in long-term care. Many psychiatric hospitals have been modernized from buildings that were never intended to serve psychiatric patients; For example, the tall, stone-walled Western State Hospital is located on the site of a historic military fort. The hospital lost its federal certification in 2018 and was subject to health and safety violations.
The new facility is now under construction near Northgate Mall. Friday marked the opening of the ceremonial building. Funded with $234 million in government funds, it will be operated by UW Medical Center-Northwest and is expected to open to residents in December 2023.
“When you walk in, it doesn’t feel like a behavioral health facility,” said Charity Holmes, assistant director of behavioral health services at UW Medical Center. “It will be an open and welcoming environment.”
Unlike many other modern buildings, the new facility will serve the dual purpose of expanding family capacity and the mental health workforce, which is facing serious shortages across the state. Washington’s inpatient psychiatric bed capacity ranks nearly last nationwide, with many forced to experience long wait times in emergency departments or no bed at all. And only 12% of Washington residents live in an area where they expect their mental health needs to be met.
The approximately 184,000 square foot building will be located on a small area adjacent to the main hospital wing.
It is expected to have six floors, with patients on the upper floors. The facility will accommodate 150 beds, many of which will be designated for civic-committed people with mental health conditions, seniors and those seeking voluntary treatment. The rest will be allocated as medical/surgical beds for those with mental health conditions who also need physical health treatment.
Extensive terracotta tiles will surround the building’s exterior, providing a more modern look and feel that complements the existing buildings on the medical campus. Carl Hampson, lead designer of the project and director of design for the SRG Partnership, said sage, soft yellow, and other colors that reflect the Pacific Northwest’s landscapes will create a serene environment in patients’ public spaces. The outdoor benches will be made from reclaimed trees; The reception desk will look like a severed tree stump.
On the first floor, visitors, University of Washington students, and staff will eat together in a public dining hall. The massive public and sick art of plastic artist Hernan Paganini, as he describes it, would act as a “second layer” on the building’s interior walls.
In Paganini’s initial concept art, when residents and visitors walk down the aisles, they will be able to touch giant faces and abstract shapes molded with white relief. Throughout the day, sunlight and shade will change the look of Paganini’s artwork, which draws inspiration from ancient Egyptian relief sculpture.
“The work itself will produce some kind of emotional reaction,” said Paganini, who lives in Bremerton. “My general idea is to try to bring these people the experience of (being) alive. In a simple way, these people can reconnect with their bodies little by little.”
Hampson said patient safety was a top priority during the planning process. In patient areas, for example, toilets, sinks, blinds, and other fixtures are designed to prevent patients from harming themselves.
The facility is expected to be equipped with a neuromodulation ward, where staff can treat patients with brain stimulation therapies. The counseling rooms will provide space for psychiatrists to conduct telehealth consultations with health providers across the state; Rural areas, in particular, face a significant shortage of mental health workers.
Retaining and building the mental health workforce is a challenge: wages are low, training programs are long, and the mental health system has a long history of mismanagement and underfunding. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that psychiatrists in Washington earn tens of thousands of dollars less than some medical specialties. Bus and transit workers earn more than many other behavioral health professions, including mental health counselors and social workers.
Creating the conditions — the physical environment and clinical standards — that motivate people to enter the mental health workforce is one way to improve retention and employment, said Dr. Jürgen Unnutzer, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UCLA. University of Washington College of MedicineAnd Who participated in the planning of the facility since its inception. Those involved in designing clinical services and training programs for the new facility say it will set a high standard for multidisciplinary medical and behavioral healthcare.
The majority of the 85 psychiatric residents at the University of Wisconsin will move through the facility during their stay, said Dr. Anna Ratzliff, director of the psychiatry training program at the University of Wisconsin. She said other interns, including those slated to become nurses, occupational therapists and social workers, will also have the opportunity to work alongside and collaborate on patient care and safety planning.
The goal, she said, is to “teach residents and other trainees about what high-quality care should look like, so that they really have that idea in their mind as they go out to Washington State, and sometimes afterward, to train.”