Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

State officials have recommended approval for a project that would add a new unit for children to a Bangor psychiatric hospital that serves residents from across the state.

Officials reviewing a proposal by Northern Light Acadia Hospital under the state’s certificate of need process recommended earlier this month that Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew approve the addition of the new, 50-room unit, saying it would make mental health services that are in high demand more accessible.

The project would enhance a state mental health treatment infrastructure that has been taxed in recent years in a state with the highest suicide rate in New England. One of only two private psychiatric hospitals in Maine, Acadia sees patients from hundreds of communities across the state. Two-thirds of patient admissions were from outside Penobscot County in fiscal year 2020, according to Northern Light documents.

The expansion will help address the shortage of psychiatric inpatient beds across the state that has worsened since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern Light said in application documents.

The new, two-story facility on Acadia’s existing Stillwater Avenue campus would feature 50 single-occupancy rooms with the pediatric beds. The construction work at the hospital will also involve converting all of the hospital’s double-occupancy rooms to single-occupancy rooms.

Some services would be relocated with the expansion, including the day treatment program and the Mood and Memory Clinic, which provides care to patients with dementia or who are at risk of developing the disease.

The project will cost around $35 million and will cost the hospital around $21 million more a year to run than current operating costs when completed.

While Acadia, which opened in 1992, is licensed for 100 beds, the hospital often cannot use all of those beds, as it’s unsafe to place many patients together in the same room, Northern Light has said. The hospital can only accommodate around 61 patients a day. It noted the current standard of care for treatment of acute mental health problems was single-occupancy beds.

Due to the current number of beds, patients had been left waiting for days in crowded emergency rooms or admitted into hospital beds while awaiting more appropriate treatment, Northern Light said.

In citing the need for new pediatric beds, Northern Light noted rising suicide rates and mental health struggles among youth since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the nature of the expansion at Acadia Hospital. It would add 50 new rooms. The number of beds would remain 100.