More than the wisdom she has gained in her long-time career in mental health, Jamie Winter says it’s her perspective as a mother of four that makes her understand the importance of the new inpatient mental health unit at Children’s Minnesota, on its St. Paul campus. “I realize there’s a possibility that one of my own children might need these services one day, and so it makes it that much more important to me personally,” she says.
Winter was named the hospital’s director of the emergency department and inpatient mental health in October, shortly before the new unit opened. “Being in a position where I can help advocate and bring a new service to our community … feels really great. It’s important not just for my family, but for all families in the metro.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that each year in the United States, one in six youth ages 6 to 17 experiences a mental health disorder. Suicidal ideation became one of the top five diagnoses at Children’s Minnesota in 2021. The new unit is the first in the east metro to serve kids under 12 years old.
“What I’ve heard from parents is that it can be a very hard, hopeless place to be in, when your child needs care and they have difficulty accessing it,” Winter says. Those ages 6 to 18 who have mental health needs, along with additional complex medical needs, are welcome. Unlike most inpatient mental health units in the state and country, there are beds for parents to sleep in near their child in the private care rooms. “We do want families to be able to be present and to be a part of the care team,” Winter says. “The biggest piece of feedback we heard from families is that if their child was hospitalized for an accident or they had cancer, the parents would be right by their bedside and be able to be part of those critical decisions and helping their child navigate care, so why can’t they do that for mental health?”
The rooms are therapeutic and incorporate elements of nature and natural light. That’s a sneak peek, of sorts, at the new unit’s two outdoor spaces, which will be ready for kids this spring. It’s part of whole childcare treatment, Winter explains. “It’s really important to think about how we get children the services they need, when they need them.”
Brandi Powell is a KSTP 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS anchor and “Minnesota Live” contributor.