Northern Light Health celebrated the groundbreaking of a new 50-bed unit at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Northern Light Health broke ground Wednesday on an expansion of Acadia Hospital in Bangor, one of Maine’s two private psychiatric hospitals.

The new, two-story facility on the hospital’s existing Stillwater Avenue campus is expected to help address a growing need for psychiatric care that has become more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Oxley, senior vice president of Northern Light Health and president of Acadia Hospital, speaks at a groundbreaking event at Acadia Hospital in Bangor on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

The wing will feature 50 single-occupancy rooms with pediatric beds. The construction work at the hospital will also involve converting all of the hospital’s double-occupancy rooms to single-occupancy rooms.

The expansion will also help ensure that the dozens of patients awaiting psychiatric care in emergency rooms get the care they need faster.

In 2021, there were 30 patients waiting for psychiatric care in Maine’s emergency rooms on average each day, according to Kara Hay, chairperson of the Northern Light Acadia Hospital board of trustees. In the first quarter of 2022, that number rose to about 50 patients.

“Today, in a state with 1.3 million people, we have only 330 beds for those that need inpatient psychiatric care and on any given day, most of those beds are full,” said Scott Oxley, senior vice president of Northern Light Health and president of Acadia Hospital. “On some days, we have more folks on our waitlist than in beds upstairs.”

Caption: Left to right, Timothy Dentry, president and CEO of Northern Light Health, listens to speakers at a groundbreaking ceremony at Acadia Hospital in Bangor on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Northern Light Health celebrated the groundbreaking of a new 50-bed unit at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

When those patients who need psychiatric care can’t access it, Oxley said, they become sicker and therefore need more extensive care in the long run.

Oxley said the need for psychiatric care is expected to rise as the stigma that surrounds mental illness fades away, and the hospital needs to be prepared to meet that need, especially since Acadia cares for patients from across the state, not just the Bangor area.

Though it’s licensed for 100 beds, Northern Light has said it can’t use all its beds because it’s unsafe to place many patients together in the same room. The expansion will allow the hospital to use all 100 beds safely.

John Campbell, a senior physician executive at Acadia Hospital, said allowing all patients to have private rooms will improve the experience of being hospitalized for children at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor.

John Campbell, a senior physician executive at Acadia Hospital, said allowing all patients to have private rooms will improve the experience of being hospitalized for children.

“This is the hospital walking the talk when it comes to addressing widespread needs across the state,” Campbell said. “I hope people will look at this as a sign that it’s worth seeking care if this is what care looks and feels like.”

The project is estimated to cost more than $49 million, $14 million more than first expected due to steep increases to the cost of labor and building materials.

The hospital will remain fully operational during construction.

The new facility is expected to open in fall 2023.

Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...