BUTNER, N.C. (WTVD) -- Children and teenagers facing immediate and serious mental health and behavioral crises now have a new facility in North Carolina to receive care.
"These children are underserved. They don't get what they need. And it can lead to such long-term complications that don't have to happen," said Dr. Michael Zarzar. He serves as the medical director for UNC Hospitals' new youth behavioral center in Butner, which has a 54-bed capacity.
"Some of these children end up in the juvenile justice system just because they haven't had the opportunity to get the treatment that they need," Zarzar said. "And if they can get on the right track and we can help them get on that right track, then that's the goal."
Zarzar said more than 800 children would be seen at the facility a year, which was formerly a drug and alcohol treatment center. His goal is that children and teens will only need to spend one to two weeks at the health center before being discharged.
"And hopefully they won't have to come back," he said.
The health center will offer children a routine schedule complete with various forms of speech, group, and music therapy, along with a quiet room. There is also a dedicated space for chapel services.
Meanwhile, in Wake County, the director of Sustaining Hope for High Impact Parents (SHHIP) said this facility would have been great for his son when he was going through a behavioral crisis.
"Parents like me who have children with high-level mental health needs or mental illness, we face a shortage of beds," said Andrew Sawyer. "It's very much like finding out your child has cancer ... and going to the doctor or the hospital and being told there's no room at the inn."
In June 2022, Sawyer's son needed immediate attention and was unable to receive appropriate care because of a bed shortage.
"We finally got it for one of our kids three days before Christmas. And that is it had to be out of state to find that," said Sawyer. "So we now are a family detached because we have one child living out of state."
The facility also looks to remain operational even when UNC Hospitals completes its construction of a freestanding hospital in Wake County within the next eight to 10 years.
"There are going to be families that need this today and needed this yesterday," said Sawyer. "And their kids that have been waiting in the ERs in the state for weeks and months. And they need these beds so that they can actually get the treatment they need for the challenges they never wanted."