OU Health begins construction on behavioral health center for children

By: - November 1, 2023 4:50 pm

OU Health started construction on a new pediatric behavioral health center at the Oklahoma Children's Hospital. (Photo by Kyle Phillips/For Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Officials broke ground Wednesday on a new pediatric behavioral health center at OU Health that will be the first of its kind in the state.

Once complete, the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Behavioral Health Center will have 72 beds for children to receive short-term and long-term mental health care.

The three-story, 172,755-square-foot expansion on the OU Health complex in the heart of Oklahoma City is expected to open in December 2026.

The new facility is expected to cost $140 million. OU Health launched a capital fundraising campaign led by First Lady Sarah Stitt and former first ladies to seek $35 million in private donations.

Oklahoma lawmakers earmarked $19.8 million from the state’s general revenue fund for the project.

They also committed $39.4 million in federal pandemic relief funds for the new facility. The GOP-led Legislature appropriated the American Rescue Plan Act funds to OU Health last year on the condition the hospital system stop offering some gender-affirming care to transgender youth.

One in 5 Oklahoma children suffers from a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, said Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and CEO of OU Health. Oklahoma’s suicide rate is among the worst in the nation.

Many young patients in need of mental health support require more robust care than what the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital currently offers, he said.

“Fifteen years ago, we would see maybe one or two pediatric patients with severe mental health conditions that they might consider suicide,” he said. “We now see that nearly every shift.”

Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, said the Legislature made a concerted effort to devote pandemic relief funds to improving mental and behavioral health treatment options across the state.

He said a trio of projects that includes the new pediatric behavioral health center, an expansion at the Tulsa Center for Behavioral Health and a new state mental health treatment facility being built in Oklahoma City will be game changers for addressing mental health.

“Nowhere in the state of Oklahoma do we have a place for children who need long-term inpatient mental health care,” he said.

At the new facility, parents will be allowed to stay in the room with their child, which OU Health officials said is rare. The facility will also include a gym, outdoor play spaces and gardens.

OU Health also plans to expand the number of beds available in its emergency department in February due to new funding from the Legislature.



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Carmen Forman
Carmen Forman

Carmen covers state government, politics and health care from Oklahoma City. A Norman native, she previously worked in Arizona and Virginia before she began reporting on the Oklahoma Capitol.