August 1, 2018

Westborough facility expanding with autism services

Photo/Grant Welker
Westborough Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, which opened in October 2017, has already added new units and will add more, including one for autistic youth.

Westborough Behavioral Healthcare Hospital is expanding with a new autism inpatient care unit it says is the first of its kind in the state.

The autism unit will serve those from age 8 to 20, with stays to last an expected average of 30 to 45 days. It is expected to open within the next month, CEO Gregory Brownstein said Tuesday.

"We know that the earlier you provide services, the better the outcome," Brownstein said.

The autism unit will be the latest new area of services for Westborough Behavioral Healthcare Hospital since the facility opened just off Route 9 on Friberg Parkway in October. This summer, it opened a dual-diagnosis unit to treat those with mental illness and substance abuse addiction and a unit specialized for children and adolescents. Other units are planned eventually for geriatric patients and separate men's and women's trauma units to help victims of sexual abuse or assault.

Westborough Behavioral Healthcare Hospital renovated the three-story former office building to accommodate up to 152 beds. It has roughly 150 employees now but is training more and plans to ultimately have as many as 600. The secured facility includes individual and double-bed units, a cafeteria, indoor basketball half-court, and fenced-in outdoor leisure space.

The hospital is part of a network of such facilities owned by Signature Healthcare Services, a California company with operations in Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada and Texas. The company opened in Westborough because the area has long been short on capacity for beds for mental health treatment, Brownstein said.

The facility is among those in Central Massachusetts who have said they've had a difficult time finding enough qualified doctors, nurses and others to work with psychiatric patients.

"It's getting harder and harder over the years," Brownstein said. "You have a crunch for nursing, for sure."

With the unit for autistic youngsters, Westborough Behavioral Healthcare Hospital is picking up on a growing need for autism services.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report in April autism spectrum disorder is now believed to affect 1 in 59 children nationally age 8 or older. As recently as 2004, the CDC said the rate was 1 in 166.

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