How Children’s new $12M mental health unit uses technology to save lives

Every detail of Dayton Children’s Hospital’s new $12 million behavioral health unit is designed with safety in mind, including new technology that is a first for any pediatric hospital in North America.

Hospital executives unveiled the new 24-bed inpatient unit for children in behavioral health crisis on Wednesday.

“We know the pain, we know the numbers,” said Greg Ramey, executive director for the Center for Pediatric Mental Health Resources at Dayton Children’s.

RELATED: Why youth mental health is one of the Miami Valley's biggest issues

Youth suicide has reached at least an 18-year high in Ohio, with 128 deaths by suicide in youth ages 8 to 19 in 2018. It’s now the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 34 nationwide.

The Dayton Daily News’ Path Forward project was created to dig into the most pressing issues facing the Miami Valley, including youth mental health challenges. We recently reported on what’s being done to combat rising teen suicide rates and Dayton Children’s officials said this unit is part of their solution.

When Children’s President and CEO Deborah Feldman began her job at the hospital seven years ago, she said she learned that not enough was being done to meet the mental health needs of local children as rates of mood disorders were rising.

“We started with zero psychiatrists; we now have nine and two nurse practitioners that work with them. We had nine psychologists. We now have 20 psychologists,” she said.

RELATED: How Dayton region can stop record increase in teen suicides

The hospital created a separate mental health crisis intake area so kids could be seen in a safer and calmer environment than the normal emergency room. Every child age 10 or older who comes through the ER is screened for suicidal thoughts or mood disorders. And the hospital receives 400 referrals a month on its Mental Health Resource Connection phone line.

To create the new unit the hospital renovated a portion of the fourth floor.

“We could have easily just thrown a coat of paint up in the old unit,” said Jena Pado, executive director of the Dayton Children’s Foundation. “Most mental health patients tend to end up in the old facilities at the hospital. But I’m really proud to work for a hospital that truly took on this commitment and completely renovated this whole space.”

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Careful thought went into all the details to create a safe, calm and caring environment so that kids can heal, Pado said.

That includes weighted chairs that can’t be thrown, doors that sound an alarm when something is hung from them and indestructible large media panels in the walls.

The screens embedded in the walls of every room function like a tablet that kids can draw on, listen to music, watch videos, play games, see their schedule for the day and stream calming images of nature. Dayton Children’s is the first pediatric hospital in North America to utilize the technology.

In addition to patient rooms, the unit has a dining hall and common area for socializing, space for group and individual talk therapy, as well as art therapy and recreational activities like yoga and dance.

“This initiative was not because we spent thousands of dollars hiring a consultant to tell us strategically where we should go,” Ramey said. Instead he said Feldman recognized the importance of mental health to the community’s overall health. “Debbie gets it,” he said.

RELATED: Dr. Ramey: How parents can help kids deal with social media

The total cost of the project was $12 million, half of which was raised through the Dayton Children’s Foundation and the other half came from the hospital’s budget.

Kettering Health Network will close its mental health inpatient unit for children after the Dayton Children’s unit opens on July 9. Kettering Health will use the space to expand its adult behavioral health services to meet an increased demand.

The switch to having the region’s only pediatric behaviorial health inpatient unit at Dayton Children’s will result in a net gain of available beds in Montgomery County and will allow children who also have medical needs to be treated all in one location rather than shuttled between hospitals, officials said.

Kettering Behavioral Medicine will continue to provide outpatient therapy services for children.

RELATED: Survivor story: LGBTQ youth at higher risk of suicide


Our team of investigative reporters digs into what you identified as pressing issues facing our community. That led us to form the Path Forward project. Our team of investigative reporters seeks solutions to these problems by investigating the Miami’s Valley mental health. Follow the project at or join one of our Facebook Groups.

Youth mental health by the numbers:

128: Youth ages 8 to 19 died by suicide in Ohio in 2018.

200%: Increase over five years in the number of kids coming to Dayton Children’s emergency room for mental health-related issues.

300%: Increase over five years in the number of children being admitted to Dayton Children’s for mental health problems.

14%: Percent of Ohio 12 to 17 year olds who experienced major depressive episodes in 2016, higher than the nationwide rate of 12.6%.

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