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Midvale • A Midvale hospital has opened its doors to teens struggling with mental illness.

Highland Ridge Hospital last month opened a new in-patient wing for intensive, short-term care for severely depressed and disabled teenagers and expanded its capacity for adult patients.

"There was a huge need out there," said CEO John Flanagan.

A 16-bed unit for teens opened Oct. 17. "The Breakthrough Program" accepts critically ill patients for one or two weeks in an attempt to stabilize them in preparation for longer-term treatment, either as outpatients or at a residential care center. The teens typically have attempted suicide or suffer acutely from developmental disabilities, often on the autism spectrum, said Kristie Julien, director of youth services.

"We're not going to cure a family's issues or a child's illness in seven to 14 days, but we can get a lot done," Flanagan said.

One boy was admitted by a family who were not sure they would be able to bring him home, Flanagan said.

"It was a totally out-of-control situation," Flanagan said.

After a week of therapy sessions for the teen and periodic family meetings to plan for future care, the boy was able to return home, Flanagan said. All of the 12- to 17-year-olds admitted to the hospital so far have returned home rather than moving on to a long-term stay at an institution.

Teens participate in group and individual therapy, with emphases on sports, games and arts because those activities lead the teens into a challenge — frustration or a conflict with others — that becomes an opportunity to learn coping mechanisms.

"It's a perfect time to implement that therapy: How do we respond appropriately?" said Jessica Tenney, manager of the teen program.

Highland Ridge also doubled the capacity of its adult psychiatric ward to accommodate a spike in demand that occurred after the hospital became certified to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients in April.

"You'd hear, 'All the beds in the valley are full,' " Flanagan said.

The greatest need was beds for acutely ill patients, many of whom were referred to emergency rooms, Flanagan said; before the expansion, the hospital was turning away 10 to 20 patients on busy weekends.

Now the adult psychiatric ward has grown from 16 beds to 41 beds. On the day the new wings opened, new clients immediately trickled into the extra space. A patient said she had been turned away from other centers that had filled up, and she arrived at Highland Ridge expecting to be sent home, Flanagan said. Instead she was given one of the new beds.

"One day earlier," Flanagan said, "and we wouldn't have had room."

Twitter: @erinalberty —

In crisis?

Highland Ridge Hospital has a 24-hour help line for people at risk of suicide, coping with addiction or suffering from other mental illnesses. For information about services, call 800-821-HELP.

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