Construction begins on new Belmont Behavioral’s new psych hospital

Belmont Behavioral Health Hospital breaks ground on its new, $110 million dollar facility. (Dana Bate/for WHYY)

Belmont Behavioral Health Hospital breaks ground on its new, $110 million dollar facility. (Dana Bate/for WHYY)

The Philadelphia region is getting its first new psychiatric hospital in more than 50 years.

On Thursday, work began on a $110 million replacement for Belmont Behavioral Health, one of the area’s largest treatment centers. The upgrade will expand the capacity at its West Philly site, increasing the number of beds from 180 to 250. Nearly half of the beds are intended for young and adolescent patients.

The beds will be capped at two per room. Right now, there are often three, which makes the space cramped. The staff will also be able to convert the rooms into private ones, an option the current setup lacks.  

The new rooms are designed to feel like a home away from home, with hardwood floors, warm colors, and lots of natural light. Belmont CEO Laura Longstreet said the idea is to create a space that is “inviting, not scary.”

“We all know that, when it’s sunny outside, and you go outside, how that instantly helps elevate your mood,” Longstreet said. “That’s what we’re trying to create at Belmont.”

There will also be sensory rooms with multi-colored lights, textured walls, and rocking chairs to soothe patients and help with therapy and de-escalation. Many of the quiet rooms will have chalkboard walls for drawing, and the outdoor areas will feature two “healing gardens,” one for adults and the other for children and adolescents.

Longstreet said the goal is to create a space that others in the industry can replicate.

“We hope that it sets the bar for other providers, that after seeing what we’re able to do and the space we’re creating for the people that need us, that others will look to do the same.”

State Senator Vincent Hughes said improving behavioral healthcare and changing the way we talk about it makes it easier for patients to get the help they need without feeling ashamed.

“You go to Children’s Hospital, that’s care for children. You come over here to Belmont, that’s care for people who have behavioral health issues, and that’s all there is to it,” he said. “It breaks down that stigma.”

The old hospital will remain open during construction, and Longstreet expects the new facility to be finished by late 2019.

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