Case Study: Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Spectrum Health

In the Grand Rapids community, like many other communities, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of children who are experiencing a multitude of suicide risk factors. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital (HDVCH), part of Spectrum Health, is a 234-bed comprehensive children’s hospital in downtown Grand Rapids, that not only serves the needs of the local community, but also is a regional referral center for Spectrum Health and western Michigan. During the pandemic, HDVCH and community partners responded quickly to the increased need for behavioral health services and found new ways to provide them.

Executive Summary

Shortly after Spectrum Health opened the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital (HDVCH) in 2011, its emergency department (ED) became flooded with behavioral health needs. The greater Grand Rapids, Mich., area had also seen a significant increase in child and adolescent admissions for a multitude of psychiatric and behavioral diagnoses, such as suicide attempts and suicidal ideation. However, there were limited community resources and services available to support this patient population.

To provide better behavioral health care to pediatric patients in the Grand Rapids community, Schwanzl spearheaded a partnership with behavioral health community representatives from Forest View Psychiatric Hospital, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and Wedgwood Christian Services.

Immediate priorities focused on:

  1. Improving access to all levels of behavioral health services.
  2. Expanding the number of inpatient psychiatric beds.
  3. Prioritizing resources to advance prevention and early intervention.

Through HDVCH’s partnerships, the number of inpatient psychiatric beds at other facilities were expanded to provide appropriate care for this vulnerable patient population. The collaboration between HDVCH nurses and the community has resulted in an increase of patients who are medically cleared and transferred directly from the ED to Pine Rest, Forest View and Wedgewood. The most important aspect of this partnership has been the expeditious and appropriate care for behavioral health pediatric patients.

In response to increased need, Spectrum Health implemented a team S.A.F.E. (Stay with the student; Access help; Feelings: Validate their feelings; Eliminate lethal risk) response protocol and trained more than 5,000 employees on how to respond at a moment’s notice to a patient who may have thoughts of suicide. This protocol included quick patient safety responses and communication with the code words “Blue Envelope.” This protocol was customized to create School Blue Envelope to train school personnel.

Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker emphasized the commitment to behavioral health by hiring a new division chief of behavioral health to drive the effort.

“Spectrum Health is committed to improving mental, emotional and behavioral health in west Michigan, beginning with increasing access to services for the pediatric population,” said Decker. “We have a significant mental health crisis in our community that’s especially affecting our children and youth. And we know we won’t be able to solve this problem alone. It’s going to take all of us, working together.