‘Beauty is Therapy’ circa 2018: Munson opens its new behavioral health unit

More than 100 years ago, James Decker Munson designed treatment at the Traverse City State Hospital with the philosophy that “beauty is therapy.” Munson Medical Center drew inspiration from its namesake in designing a brand new unit to treat those suffering from diseases of the mind.

MMC’s new inpatient behavioral health services unit opened in January.

The old 14-bed behavioral services unit known as Center 1 was formerly located in the oldest portion of the hospital. The new 14,000-square foot facilities are located on the sixth floor of D-wing, or D6, and feature an open, modern design with 17 private rooms. The space features abundant natural light, with views overlooking the medical campus to the north and Grand Traverse Commons to the south.

Especially dramatic, and a nod to Dr. Munson, are panoramic views of the spires on Building 50, the largest building of the former state hospital.

“Everything [in the design] is intentionally therapeutic,” said Terri LaCroix-Kelty, LMSW, director of behavioral services.

Lacroix-Kelty said the density of windows connecting the natural world with patients was a point cited as “very important” in patient studies.

Interdisciplinary research was done to incorporate current best practices into the planning. Munson team members visited hospitals and private facilities throughout the state while also conferring with peer professionals. The resulting design features privacy, safety, beauty and intentionality.

More than 40 cross-functional staff provide behavioral health services including psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, technicians and a recreation therapist, among others.

Only adult patients will stay on D6 typically for acute stabilization stays of five to seven days. Admitted patients often enter through the emergency room in an acute phase of mental disorders such as severe depression, thought disorders, or co-occurring disorders.

Once on D6, services include psychiatric evaluation, multidisciplinary assessment, group therapy, family sessions and related programs. Once stabilized, patients then transition to continued outpatient care. Based on historical demand, LaCroix-Kelty anticipates patient beds in the new unit to be fully utilized.

Additional facility highlights include workshop rooms with flexibility for such uses as recreational therapy, family visits, wellness activities and music. A piano stands in one such room, where volunteer musicians, including students from Interlochen Center for the Arts, perform for patients and their caregivers. Other amenities include a serenity room for self-calming, a central nursing hub that is within sight and always accessible from spaces, wide windowed walkways conducive to ambulatory patients, and mobile nursing carts that are taken to patients.

Local architectural firm AECOM, which specializes in such healthcare facilities throughout the country, worked with LaCroix-Kelty and Munson staff on the project which was completed over a 24-month period. LaCroix-Kelty noted D-6 was a long-term goal in Munson Medical Center’s planning but the timeline and implementation were accelerated due to demand.

She said she is “pleased” with the results.

“Privacy, safety and beauty were planning priorities,” LaCroix-Kelty said. “This is a place that patients are assured a highly-skilled staff and a very therapeutic environment.”

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