With acute care hospitals finding unused space in their facilities due to declining census, many are looking for additional services to fill under-utilized space and a need in their community.  Hospitals are finding that behavioral health, especially for geriatric patients fits perfectly.  A geriatric behavioral health program provides a much needed service to the community, and if managed correctly, a boost to a hospital’s bottom line.

Behavioral health is a very unique service line. With everything from physical plant, to regulations and certifications, to personnel, this is not your med/surg floor. Ask anyone who has implemented, or attempted to implement a program. It’s different and justifies partnering with experts that can help guide the design and build process, and manage the unit.

With the average 12-bed unit requiring around 7,500 square feet and renovation cost ranging from $225 -$300 per square foot, errors in the planning and design process can be costly. It is paramount that you locate an architect with plenty of behavioral health renovation experience and is licensed in your state. They will start by doing a conceptual test fit to determine the number of beds that can fit in the space. Then determinations can be made if private, semi-private, or a combination, will work best while still meeting clinical needs.

Once you have the bed count the financial pro formas need to be completed. This is again where experienced clinical, operational, marketing and financial input is invaluable for determining staffing, salaries and financial assumptions. A lot of mistakes can be made here. This is a big Buyer Beware moment. You will need a team that can put together an accurate and realistic behavioral health bed need. Will your market support an 80% occupancy of a 12-bed unit?  A 10-bed unit? There are a lot of variables that a very experienced operational and marketing team need to analyze.

The next step is for the architect to complete a feasibility assessment of the actual space to be renovated. This is more involved, as the architect needs to visit the space and coordinate with onsite physical plant personnel as well as local contractor talent. The architect will present a conceptual budget to the management team once completed.

Once all of this information is collected and analyzed, it is time for senior management to make a go or no-go decision. If the decision is to move forward, it’s time to begin securing financing or budget approval.

From here, all the various applications (CON if applicable) will begin at the local, state and federal level. These will cover the gambit from clinical to construction. A support team can help with everything from recruiting management staff and providers to assisting with various purchasing decisions regarding furniture and equipment. More so than any other department in the hospital, some very specific and uniquely important decisions need to be made— right down to the pattern of the floor tile.   An experienced support team in the trenches is invaluable for the smooth implementation of this very unique service line.