Montana consistently has one of the highest suicides rates in the country, regardless of age. But last year, the number of young people why died by suicide more than doubled.

Did the pandemic play a role? Certainly.

Are we still trying to appropriately address child and adolescent mental health? You bet.

Does this increase the need for accessible and affordable services more than ever? Absolutely.

Shodair Children’s Hospital has been dedicated to Montana’s children for 126 years – first as an orphanage, then as a polio hospital, and for the last 50 years as a children’s psychiatric hospital and world-class medical genetics program. Taking care of the vulnerable is in our DNA; throughout our history, we have provided services regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

We do this by making sure our mission guides all of our decisions: To heal, help, and inspire hope.

Five years ago, Shodair embarked on a project to build a state-of-the-art psychiatric hospital to replace one that was once a bowling alley and eatery. This project also includes construction of a medical office building that will become home to our medical genetics program. We are committed to this effort because it’s what the families of Montana deserve.

Many professionals believe we’ve been in a mental health crisis for years. Others say our mental health needs are at an all-time high because of society’s willingness to accept that one in four adults have some sort of mental disorder.

Either way, the pandemic has certainly demonstrated that we still have a long way to go, and Shodair has proven that it’s up to the challenge.

Shodair continually strives to provide what is best for the patients and families we serve. Shodair was one of the first and remains one of the only hospitals certified in trauma-informed care. Every year, we care for thousands of children and adolescents from 52 of Montana’s 56 counties. The current construction project allows us to continue our work in a space that is equal to the quality and creativity of our care.

The new hospital is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Designed by providers, patients and families who worked with leadership, architects, and designers, it will provide patients with individual rooms and restrooms; adaptable flexible spaces; a spiritual space with a smudge room; a pool; state-of-the-art security and safety; and quiet rooms with windows and recorded music.

Shodair remains a beacon in the night for the lost; a sanctuary for those who have been hurt; and a vessel of hope for families that often arrive in despair. We may not have an instant fix to our state’s mental health; however, we do have a dedicated community of mission-driven employees, loyal supporters who show up no matter what is asked of them, and the foundational stamina to be there for Montana for another 126 years.

Craig Aasved is the CEO of Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena, Montana.

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