Children in Crisis Find Safe Haven at Behavioral Health Unit
CAPU Provides a Safe Place for Healing
Karen Bossert, RN, meets young people when they are experiencing the worse times of their lives.
“It could be the first time that they’ve been removed from their home because of abuse or trauma; some of them are suicidal; some are self-mutilating; some are having their first psychotic break from schizophrenia,” says Bossert, clinical director of Jefferson Health’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit (CAPU) in New Jersey. “It’s important to be there to support that person, to give them the love and care they deserve, to provide them with the tools they need to progress to programs that will move them forward in their healing process.”
CAPU is a 14-bed acute inpatient unit at the Cherry Hill campus that offers 24-hour nursing supervision, psychiatric and medical evaluation, group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, psycho-educational groups, in-house school services, and medication monitoring.
It provides a welcoming, safe, compassionate environment for children between the ages of 5 and 17 who are in crisis.
The patients stay between five and seven days—enough time to stabilize them so they can move on to outpatient programs designed for their specific needs. The unit serves children from Camden, Burlington, Gloucester, and Salem counties. It also accepts patients from Cumberland, Atlantic, and Cape May counties if hospital behavioral health units in those areas are full. About 500 children per year are treated at the facility.
Bossert, who has been at CAPU for 26 years, says she has seen some of the saddest cases, but also some of the most inspiring success stories.
One such story came unexpectedly when Bossert went to pick up a take-out meal. “When I got to the cashier, her face lit up. She asked: ‘Are you Karen? I’m so excited to see you—I’ve wanted to tell you how good I’m doing!’”
The young woman had been a CAPU patient several years ago, and was now attending college for nursing.
“A lot of times you don’t realize the work you do has so much impact on lives,” Bossert says, crediting her staff of one physician, 12 nurses, two social workers, and 20 mental health technicians. “We love the kids, we care about them. We don’t even call them patients—we call them our kids, and they feel that and take that with them.”
Although the inpatient stays are short, they inspire bonding with staff—and with each other.
“When the kids come in they feel like they’re the only ones experiencing what they’re experiencing; they don't think that anyone else can understand what they’re going through. Then they meet other kids who are going through the same things as they are and it makes them realize they’re not alone,” Bossert says.
CAPU was recently the recipient of a grant from the Giving Tank fundraiser at Jefferson that is helping them to upgrade the media center where the young people go to relax.
The room provides a comfortable environment for downtime where the children can watch movies, get exercise playing Just Dance on the donated PlayStation, and watch therapeutic group material on the television.
“Walking into a locked psychiatric unit can be frightening, so the environment is really important. We want it to be more home-like than institutional,” Bossert says. “We provide a safe, supportive environment so they can get the therapy they need to heal. It’s just a really great place for kids to come when they’re experiencing the worst time of their life.”