RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Local doctors say they’re seeing a big increase in people seeking care for mental health concerns.

To keep up with the need, WakeMed wants to build a new psychiatric hospital.

Hospital leaders say it’s important to have an environment geared specifically toward people dealing with mental health crises. 

As WakeMed’s Chief Medical Officer for mental health and wellbeing, Dr. Micah Krempasky has seen the toll the pandemic is taking – not just on physical health, but mental health. 

“We have seen increases in volumes, across age groups, of people coming into the emergency room with mental health issues,” she explained. “We’ve also seen increases in the severity with which people are presenting. We’ve seen more people coming in after suicide attempts, after overdoses, and with signs of serious and decompensating mental illness.”

“Currently we have no beds that are specific for psychiatric patients, and our goal is to open 150 beds,” Krempasky added.

Right now, when someone needs inpatient psychiatric care, WakeMed refers the patient to another facility, but there isn’t always a bed immediately available.

Krempasky said sometimes the wait for an inpatient bed can be days or weeks.

If it’s not safe for a patient to go home, WakeMed can keep the person in the hospital for their own safety, while continuing the referral process, but ultimately, Dr. Krempasky says it’s important to have a facility specifically for mental health care. 

“The care for mental health issues is very specialized,” she noted, emphasizing the importance of environment. “Take, for example, the emergency room. It’s not always the most conducive and healing environment for someone who’s struggling with depression, or maybe has psychosis and is hearing voices or has gotten really paranoid,” she explained. “The chaotic fast-paced environment of the emergency room can really be overstimulating. For that person, our goal would be to get into a quiet, healing, nurturing environment to help treat their illness.” 

That’s why WakeMed is proposing developing a psychiatric hospital in eastern Wake County. 

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the project would cost $137 million.

If it moves forward, the hospital is projected to be completed in October 2026. 

Krempasky says it would serve young people as well as adults.

“We have seen our adolescents really struggling,” she said. “Looking at 2020 data versus 2022, we have seen a four-fold increase in the number of adolescents coming to WakeMed with behavioral health needs.”

She emphasized that mental health issues can be just as serious as physical ones.

“The risk can be very significant including life or death,” she noted. “We don’t always think about people dying from mental illness, but it happens every single day.”