Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Upstate University Adolescent Psychiatric Unit Aims to Address High Demand for Inpatient Beds

John Smith

An estimated 20 percent of adolescents in the US have mental health issues.  Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse is about to open it’s first-ever inpatient unit to help them.  The hospital already has a waiting list for the $3.8 million facility.

State Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli and Congressmember John Katko convened the “Youth Mental Health Task Force” in April of 2015.  Establishing more beds for treatment of youth was one of 17 recommendations because of the growing demand for services. 

"Mental health, especially with our adolescents, obviously we have problems.  We have to address them.  They're in our schools and on our streets.  This is what happens when we don't address the problems that are at hand.”  

Psychiatric services will be offered to youth ages 12 to 17  and the stay will last 5 to 7 days.  The floor’s Medical Director and Board Certified Child and Adolescent Psychologist Dr. Joseph Biedrzycki  explains the process for parents.

"Typically showing up in the emergency room, getting an evaluation, and determination by our psychiatrists that this will be the most helpful, most appropriate way to get them the help they need.”  

The doctor also credits his social workers who will get youth placed into the psychiatric unit equipped with 8 private rooms.

Credit John Smith / WAER News
Patient rooms have the look and feel of a bedroom at home.


The new rooms on the floor have welcoming color tones a bed and a desk that resembles bedroom at home.   Congressmember John Katko knows firsthand the realities of adolescent suicide.

"I had a family member who struggled with mental health and ultimately lost her life.  Seeing what our family went through, being in a metropolitan area with more than 500,000 people, that and you have to travel several hours to get inpatient pediatric mental health treatment was an outrage to me."

Katko worked with Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli to secure the funding.  They toured a room where youth may need to take time-out.  The low-lit blue room has a galactic feel with stars and stimulating auditory features including ocean waves.

"This works, huh?" asked Magnarelli.

"It does.  And if we don't want this, we can have it look more like  a regular room.  Whatever the kid wants."

"This is really cool," Magnarelli said.

Credit John Smith / WAER News
Congressman John Katko and Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli learn about the time-out room for adolescents.

The Syracuse and Central New York region mirrors national trends for youth mental health services.  Upstate’s Interim President Dr. Mantosh Dewan says there’s a variety of reasons ranging from the opioid crisis, social media.  The Adolescent Psychiatry Inpatient Unit will utilize a treatment model of Dialectal Behavioral Therapy.  Dewan says it has a proven track record of success.

"What's essential to it is that it allows them to learn new skills on how you deal with negative emotion and behavior.  It's not just saying 'you need to behave better.'  It's 'here are three things you can do to do that.'” 

As to whether or not medication is involved for treatment, Vice Chair of Psychiatry Services, Dr. Chris Lukas says it’s not always the answer.

"Most medication is not prescribed by child psychiatrists.  It's prescribed by pediatricians and primary care doctors.  They can often deal with simple cases.  But when things get more complicated, when things don't go according to plan, you really need that specialist, diagnosis and treatment plan.”  

An estimated 20 percent of children in the US presently suffer from mental health problems.  The suicide rate of young people from ages 10 to 24 increased by 56 percent from 2006 to 2017.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at