Children’s Psychiatric Unit Opening Marks Milestone at UAMS

By Nate Hinkel

With the move of the Department of Pediatrics to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 1980, UAMS has focused primarily on the treatment of patients 18 and older. However, the need for a facility to deal with the mental health issues of children has become increasingly apparent over the years. The opportunity to aid children dealing with a variety of illnesses, from post-traumatic stress to anxiety and mood disorders, came about with the opening of the Psychiatric Research Institute in December.

The Psychiatric Research Institute has 40 beds dedicated to patients requiring hospitalization due to some form of mental illness. The children’s unit, located on the fifth floor, has 10 individual rooms, some of which have an extra bed that will allow a parent to remain with their child overnight.

The children’s inpatient unit will treat children ages 2 to 12 and represents a new approach to treating children with mental illness. The unit will take a multidisciplinary approach, relying on specialists in psychiatry, psychology, nursing, social work and education as well as speech, language and occupational therapy.

“We designed the unit to be child friendly, from the day room, which has toys, board games and a big-screen TV, to the small and colorful furniture in the activity room,” said Molly Gathright, M.D., the attending physician for the unit. “Parents and siblings will be encouraged to visit their loved ones, and the staff will collaborate with the parents or guardians to make sure the children receive the treatment they need.”

Gathright and the unit’s staff will use a unique approach involving collaborative problem solving, working with the children to identify their individual needs based on how they interact with others. Once the patient is discharged, the institute staff will continue to follow the child to integrate the treatment plan with community-based caregivers.

“Our basic premise is that kids will do well if they can, which is opposed to the school of thought that kids will do well if they want to,” Gathright said. “It becomes our job to help them do well.”

Many of the children in the inpatient unit will be dealing with complex mental issues, said G. Richard Smith, M.D., director of the Psychiatric Research Institute and chairman of the UAMS Department of Psychiatry.

“They have bounced from foster home to foster home, from residential setting to residential setting, with many of their illnesses not properly understood,” Smith said. “We want to help get them on the right track through early intervention.”

UAMS provided psychiatric treatment to children on an outpatient basis into the 1990s.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a new 540,000-square-foot hospital, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,652 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or