Psychiatric Research Institute Northwest: Mental Health Care in Northwest Arkansas

Jon Parham

Jon Rubenow, D.O.

Should any of the 28 psychiatric inpatient beds at Northwest Medical Center in Springdale come open, they don’t stay that way for long.

Yet it wasn’t in the too distant past that there were no inpatient psychiatric services in the fast-growing northwest region of the state.

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a wave of inpatient psychiatry program closures at northwest Arkansas hospitals. But the need never went away, and as the region’s population increased, the lack of inpatient services grew even more serious, said Dan McKay, chief executive officer for Northwest Health System.

So in 2009, the state, health care organizations and mental health providers joined forces with UAMS to develop the 28-bed adult mental health unit in a wing of Northwest Medical Center. Startup funding included more than $1 million allocated by Gov. Mike Beebe and more than $1 million appropriated by the state Legislature.

I think this has proven to be a successful private-public collaboration.Dan McKay, CEO, Northwest Health System

Development of the unit was led by the grassroots Northwest Arkansas Acute Care Mental Health Task Force. The group included UAMS, Northwest Health System, Ozark Guidance, Care Foundation Inc., Washington Regional Medical Center and Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas.

“It was too big a project for just one hospital system to take on — too expensive and too many resources required,” McKay said. “I think this has proven to be a successful private-public collaboration — coming together to take care of patients and fulfill a real community need for mental health care services.

The inpatient unit is staffed by UAMS psychiatrists and psychiatry resident physicians who are a part of UAMS’ Psychiatric Research Institute Northwest.

Jon C. Rubenow, D.O., division director for the Psychiatric Research Institute Northwest, said because of the unique nature of the arrangement, “we are called on sometimes to treat patients who are having difficulty finding other options for care whether due to the complexity of the case or extenuating medical, social or legal issues.

“Being based in a hospital offers us the ability to accept patients that might have been turned down at other types of facilities in addition to the resources — the staffing and infrastructure — to provide the comprehensive care patients need.”

I think we have many opportunities to expand our impact.Jon C. Rubenow, D.O.

Another community need — mental health services for children in northwest Arkansas — is being met through the Centers for Children in Lowell, a collaboration of UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. UAMS board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrists there offer evaluation and treatment to children with developmental disabilities.

Access to pediatric subspecialty care, including a child psychiatrist, was a driving force in opening the Lowell facility in 2007.

Child mental health services also are provided by UAMS through KIDS FIRST, a comprehensive, early-intervention program for infants and young children with medical conditions and developmental delays. KIDS FIRST provides medical and neuropsychological assessments for children with developmental issues.

Rubenow said growth potential remains in all of the mental health programs in the region. “I think we have many opportunities to expand our impact and implement our mission, which includes helping patients and families as well as providing important clinical experience to students and resident physicians.