By Matt Wiley

North Tampa Behavioral Health (NTBH) is slated to open its doors on S.R. 56 in early October about one year after the opening of Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel (FHWC). However, instead of a facility devoted to physical wellness, NTBH will focus on the well-being of the mind for its patients. There will be an added benefit of increased prosperity for the local community, eventually creating more than 200 jobs.

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North Tampa Behavioral Health, a psychiatric health facility, located on S.R. 56 east of the Shops at Wiregrass, will open to patients in October.

This summer NTBH bought the facility (located just east of Mansfield Blvd. on the south side of S.R. 56 in the Wiregrass Ranch Development of Regional Impact, or DRI) from United Medical Corp. NTBH was impressively constructed, in form and function, by DeAngelis Diamond Healthcare Group, LLC, to withstand Category 5 storms. DeAngelis is a Naples-based, nationally reputed construction company that specializes in building medical facilities.

NTBH will be both the newest and one of the most secure psychiatric hospitals in the Tampa Bay area when it opens in early October, says NTBH chief executive officer Jim Harris, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has worked in the mental health field since 1990. Surrounded by 14-foot-tall fences, the 53,000-sq.-ft., 75-bed facility sits on 16.46 acres of land on an outparcel of the Wiregrass Ranch DRI, but is surrounded almost entirely by conservation land. Construction began last November. The center is centrally located to serve several hospitals without psychiatric units, including FHWC, Florida Hospital Zephyrhills and Bayfront Dade City (Pasco Regional).

“We look forward to working closely with our surrounding hospitals and their emergency departments to address the mental health needs of the community”, says Harris. But it doesn’t stop there – Harris enthusiastically described the importance of developing relationships with local providers such as medical clinics, nursing homes, police and EMTs, as well as the people and families that make up our community.

“This is a place where healing can take place,” Harris says. “(NTBH) will have a culture of warm, welcoming, compassionate care. The design of this facility reflects that concept. Additionally, a lot of planning went into the engineering of the building itself, to ensure a high degree of safety.”

When it opens, the inpatient facility will care for geriatric, general adult, and dual diagnosis patients who may check into the facility themselves, be checked in by family members or other providers for emotional or psychiatric concerns, or be transported to the facility under the Florida Mental Health Act—more commonly known as the “Baker” Act. This Act allows for a person to be involuntarily committed for up to 72 hours if there is evidence that they are a danger to themselves or others.

The facility also will receive Florida Substance Abuse & Impairment Act (aka, the “Marchman Act”) patients. Those who fall into the Marchman Act category are subject to the same treatment as Baker Act patients. Eventually, Harris says, the facility will offer services to additional populations, such as for children and adolescents, military, eating disorders and so on, depending upon the needs of the community. “However, in answer to your last question, we do not have a forensic unit and we will not be treating criminals.”

The facility will offer assessments on-site to anyone at any time in the community. NTBH will also feature a mobile assessment team that can travel into the community, providing assessment and referral services as well as issuing a Baker Act if necessary. NTBH offers a Partial Hospital Program on-site, essentially a half-day hospital service complete with a separate entrance, a psychiatrist, registered nurse and group meetings. Meals and transportation will be provided by NTBH to the patients.

“The partial hospital is a step down from the acute, inpatient level of treatment,” Harris says. “This is a half-day of intensive group treatment and medication monitoring provided weekdays to prevent hospitalization or re-hospitalization.”

Open Door, All-Access Tour

Harris provided the Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News with an extensive tour of the new facility. Walking through the front door of NTBH, it’s hard to tell that the lobby, with its dark, wood-lined, multi-tone painted walls with towering ceilings and windows, is a medical facility at all, resembling instead the lobby of an upscale hotel. The walls of the facility are lined with artwork that has been researched and shown to be calming. There is no institutional feel about this building at all.

Through the first set of card-key-accessed double doors is a secondary waiting area for patients who may not be comfortable waiting around other patients. Through the second set of doors is access to a hallway that leads to all three units of the psychiatric facility, which also require a card swipe to be accessed. On the way is an indoor gym, complete with a basketball court. A projector screen hangs from the far wall in a room that soon also will house the center’s exercise equipment.

“Activity and exercise are part of any good treatment plan,” Harris stated.

Each wing of the facility houses 25 beds in a mix of private and semi-private rooms, each through yet another set of locked doors. At the beginning of each wing is a common area surrounding a nursing station, as well as three windowed rooms where patients eventually will work in groups. During the day, patients will take part in activities in one of the three group rooms, the common area or even in a spacious, fenced-in outdoor area.

“This allows the staff to see the entire unit at any time,” Harris explains. “We are in the business of providing safe and quality care that is safe not only for the patients, but also for the staff and the surrounding community.”

Everything in the patient areas is designed with safety in mind, Harris explains. All patient care areas are equipped with “anti-ligature” fixtures and appliances such as doors with continuous hinges and tapered handles, and bathrooms with toilets, sinks and showers that minimize a person’s ability to harm themselves. The geriatric unit provides medical beds made specifically to reduce falls as well as risk of self-harm.

Harris emphasizes that NTBH is a positive addition to the Wesley Chapel community, despite the stigma that often is attached to mental health facilities.

“(NTBH) will meet a great need in the community,” Harris says. “At full capacity, we will offer hundreds of full- and part-time jobs to Wesley Chapel and surrounding communities. NTBH will offer a place for people to seek effective and caring treatment that is closer to their homes. And, we will meet the community’s need to service Baker Act patients. Safety and quality treatment are our top priority. We’re here to help people heal.”

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