The 2022 Healthcare Design Conference + Expo will be held Oct. 8-11 in San Antonio. The annual event will offer a variety of keynote and breakout sessions on a range of topics.

Healthcare Design is previewing some of the upcoming educational sessions in a series of Q+As with speakers, sharing what they plan to discuss and key takeaways they plan to offer attendees.

Session: Design and Operational Considerations for Pediatric Mental Health, Oct. 11, 9:30-10:30 a.m.

Speakers: Francis Pitts, principal, Architecture+; Sherri Reyes, principal behavioral health consultant, Human eXperience.

This presentation will discuss the unique challenges in designing for pediatric mental health treatment. The discussion will include the unique design challenges, but also the role of operations in informing design and program decisions to deliver projects that are clinically effective and financially viable.

Healthcare Design: What changes have you seen in recent years in how healthcare systems are talking about or addressing pediatric mental health?

Frank Pitts and Sherri Reyes: It’s the trifecta. Many health systems are:

  1. Now talking about addressing mental health.
  2. Many hospital emergency departments, medical/surgical floors, and first responders are providing care at unprecedented rates and for higher-acuity children and adolescents. This has resulted in exponential increases in staffing costs and depletion of precious hospital resources.
  3. Many hospital systems are actively trying to convert higher demands into opportunities to serve the children and adolescents in psychiatric crisis in a safer, more therapeutic, and financially viable continuum of care.

How is designing for mental illness for young people different than when designing for adults?

Pitts and Reyes: Operationally, the thinking is similar. Hospitals must first understand who they are treating in terms of ages and diagnoses, all while considering treatment resources and hospital operational and financial objectives.

Children and adolescents experience a range of diagnostic and treatment needs within an inpatient setting. To allow for evidence-based treatments targeted for each diagnostic population, all while addressing the behavioral challenges, cohorting kids into groups based off age and diagnostic needs is indicated when possible.

We also cannot take anything for granted when designing spaces for young people in terms of safety and supervision. They are more creative and motivated to find vulnerabilities within the environment and then create their own entertainment. They are smarter than we are, and that should keep us on our toes.

What are some of the alternative treatment settings that are a better fit in serving young patients?

Pitts and Reyes: Systems that have supported the development of a full mental health continuum of care have the most flexibility and agility to ensure they have the most responsive levels of care and staffing resources to support kids in the least restrictive program possible.

There are children’s hospitals that are enhancing the continuums of care to include alternative treatments consistent with current clinical research (e.g., electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, infusion therapies), beyond the traditional pediatric psychiatric emergency department, inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and traditional outpatient services.

Clinically, involving the families of children into treatment is the best way to support meaningful and effective treatment plans for kids. Mental health design is syncing the clinical needs of children and families with the built environment.

This is done by providing a diverse array of family accommodations ranging from family education centers, family lounges on inpatient floors, supervised play space for siblings, daybeds for parents in inpatient rooms and purpose-built Ronald McDonald support facilities.

What’s one takeaway from your session that you hope attendees walk away with?

Pitts and Reyes: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for mental health. Every facility has different needs, which vary by hospital, market, and state. Understanding each hospital’s specific clinical, operational, and financial challenges and opportunities is essential for the creation of solutions that address the true needs of kids, families, hospital, and community.

For more on the HCD Conference schedule and registration, visit