Summa Health to open new behavioral health hospital in Akron

Summa Health is opening a new 64-bed mental health and addiction hospital on its main campus in Downtown Akron this month, replacing the services offered at the soon-to-close historic St. Thomas Campus.

The hospital is the second dedicated-behavioral health center to open in recent months in Northeast Ohio, following MetroHealth’s 112-bed Cleveland Heights facility which opened in October.

Hospital officials say there is still strong demand for mental health beds in the region. In Cuyahoga County, national guidelines showed there were “220 fewer (psychiatric) beds than what is needed to adequately serve the needs of local patients,” according to MetroHealth officials.

When the Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion opens on Jan. 24 it will increase the system’s in-patient capacity, said Summa Health’s psychiatry department chair Dr. Joseph Varley.

Hospital is focusing on providing a more comfortable environment where patients are more easily connected to additional services, Varley said.

The new building is connected to the main hospital so people can be evaluated in the ER and easily be admitted in-patient. Varley said psychiatrists can also access the main hospital more frequently for consultations.

Summa officials said the worker shortage has been a challenge, especially as the system attempts to find nurses and behavioral health techs.

“The problem is too big for us to solve, and in our role, we’re doing more than our share,” Varley said.

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Summa Health moved the stain glass windows from the historic St. Thomas’ chapel to its new behavioral health facility. Hospital officials say they want to continue the legacy of the old facility, which was one of the first in the nation to treat people for alcoholism.

The Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and intensive outpatient addiction programs St. Thomas was known for will continue at the pavilion, in addition to in-patient psychiatric services and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The new pavilion will preserve some of the architectural elements from St. Thomas, which in 1939, was the first hospital in the nation to openly admit alcoholics and treat alcoholism as a disease, Varley said. Two of the stained glass windows from the chapel at St. Thomas are in the new building’s lobby.

Varley said the construction team focused on safety. Door handles and screws in the wall are designed to be anti-harm. Doors open both ways so patients can’t barricade themselves in.

But builders outfitted balconies on most floors so psychiatric patients can get fresh air, he said.

“Doctor offices aren’t up on the top floor. Patient rooms are,” Varley said. “We’re elevating people to get the views — to get the sense this is a place designed for them and their suffering.”