Avera celebrates ‘world-class’ Behavioral Health Hospital

Jefferey Metcalfe

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Thomas Otten is ready to oversee the operations of the “finest psychiatric facility in the country.” 

Thursday was a day of celebration as Avera officials, including Otten, gave tours of a brand new, 4-story addition to the Avera Behavioral Health Hospital in Sioux Falls. The new center allows for access to urgent mental health care 24-hours a day, seven days a week. 

“We’ve seen the need escalate,” said Otten, who serves as Avera’s Assistant Vice President for the Avera Behavioral Health Hospital. “We had the busiest summer we’ve ever had in 2020 and 2021 was busier yet. Usually, the summer is a slower time for us because schools are a big referral source for us.” 

Avera’s first Behavioral Health Hospital opened in 2006 and projections then said it would meet the needs of the community through 2025. 

“We were very quickly at capacity,” Otten said, adding the existing hospital has been constantly at or near capacity. 

The new facility comes with specialized care for kids and teenagers. Avera will now have three units with 54 total beds for high school level students, middle school students and elementary students. 

In addition, Avera will bring its senior behavioral health unit, located near the Avera Prince of Peace senior living center, into the new facility so all behavioral health needs are at one campus. 

“It’s about getting the right patients the right treatment at the right time,” Dr. Matthew Stanley said as he showed examples of rooms inside the new facility. 

He said the 24/7 urgent mental care needs and partial hospitalization, which allows kids or adults to continue to go to school or work jobs while receiving mental health treatment, will help Avera reach more patients. 

“It’s hard to know how to navigate the behavioral health world,” Stanley said. 

Otten highlighted how the message of hope is shown through all the artwork in the facility. Specialty kids artwork is also on display from Fabio Napoleoni. 

With a wife who works as a teacher in the Sioux Falls School District, Otten said he knows how hard the last two years have been in schools. He said a new trial program is starting next week with the SFSD allowing Avera mental health specialists to go into schools to provide services and support. 

“We’re trying to make sure where the schools have needs, we can kind of meet those needs,” Otten said. “We’re going to a trial of it this year and it’ll be in full effect next year.” 

At the Avera Behavioral Health Hospital, Otten said nurses along with behavioral health specialists with degrees in psychology or sociology make up a majority of the workforce.

“It’s very much team nursing,” Otten said, adding health care teams discuss each patient and the treatment methods every morning in a meeting. 

The new building came with 110 job openings for mental health care experts, and Avera has filled 95 of its 110 openings.  

“What we still lack is some nurses,” Otten said, adding social workers are also a need. “If there’s people interested in working in a world-class facility this would be an opportunity.”

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