May is Mental Health Awareness Month and our psyche's seem to be as fragile as they've ever been.

While our mental health has taken a beating the last three years since Covid-19 threw a wrench into our normal lives, Intermountain Health has decided to expand its efforts to address these issues.

Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital is opening six additional behavioral health unit beds this month to enhance community access to these vital services.

The additional beds brings the total number of behavioral health rooms to 24, with half of the rooms able to expand for double occupancy, if needed.

The inpatient rooms provide a safe resource to community members needing behavioral health treatment when they are at the highest risk of trauma.

“Intermountain recently conducted our Community Health Needs Assessment, and addressing mental and behavioral health surfaced as the number one health care priority,” said Mitch Cloward, administrator of Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital. “Expanding the number of behavioral health beds is part of our stewardship to directly respond to our community’s needs and advance critical services. We continue to remain laser-focused on doing the right thing for all our patients, helping with medical needs regardless of ability to pay.”

These six new inpatient beds are in addition to the existing Behavioral Health Access Center at St. George Regional Hospital, which serves as an emergency room type center for mental well-being crises. These access centers operate 24/7, and are staffed with nurses, mental health crisis counselors and psychiatrists, and offer a 23-hour stabilization period for patients. 

“We strive to provide the best care possible close to home. Unfortunately, there are times when we haven’t enough adult inpatient behavioral health inpatient capacity and then our patients have to travel away from home or have to wait for an opening,” said Heather Frank, nurse manager of the Behavioral Health Unit at St. George Regional Hospital. “These six additional rooms will help us better serve our community and support those who may be in a mental health crisis.”

In addition, there has been growing telehealth options as Intermountain introduced Connect Care Behavioral Health, which uses video connections to bring people to specialists.

“At Intermountain Health our mission is to help people live the healthiest life possible. Our community is only healthy when we have both physical and mental health. Mental health is a critical part of our health and as our community’s hospital we will continue to focus on this aspect of care,” said Dr. Patrick Carroll, medical director at St. George Regional Hospital.

“Unfortunately, there is still stigma attached to seeking care for mental health. I see a future where that stigma has dissipated and we can seek mental health care in the same way we seek care for a broken bone,” he added. “I’m excited for the expansion of the number of inpatient rooms from 18 to 24, and I am also extremely excited as we continue planning and building of a pediatric and adolescent partial hospitalization program that was supported by many in the community through our Jubilee of Trees.” 

Access to behavioral health has been a critical need and focus for Intermountain Health for the past decade, especially as research indicated the state of Utah was once last in the country in behavioral health access, according to a 2019 Gardner Policy Institute study. 

Utah also ranked as the sixth highest state in the nation for death by suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Utah’s rate of 21.21 deaths per 100,000 by suicide is higher than the national average of 13.93 deaths.

“We are grateful to be able to expand our services in our inpatient behavioral health unit,” said Joelle Jacobsen, administrative director at St. George Regional. “Our care team works collaboratively with our patient to create individualize treatment plans to meet their unique needs and goals.”  

Intermountain has worked to create more access in a variety of ways, including providing a free Intermountain Behavioral Health Navigation Line that is available seven days a week, from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. and can be reached at 1-833-442-2211.

KEEP READING: See 25 natural ways to boost your immune system

More From KDXU 890 & 92.5