• BLPCP Team

Bendigo's Parent Infant Unit a first in regional Australia

By Monique Rosenbauer, Nurse Unit Manager, Bendigo Health

Bendigo Health’s Parent Infant Unit (PIU) treats acute mental health disorders in carers while supporting the attachment relationship between the infant and their carer. This reflects the significant movement towards recognising the need for specialist mental health services for infants and their carers, who could be a mother, father or other carer.

The planning of our new PIU began well over 12 months prior to the opening of the new Bendigo Hospital and involved a reference group of interested and passionate mental health clinicians.

They site visited similar units around the state and took the best and most useful aspects to create a unique environment to reflect the needs of the first 24 hour, seven days a week regional parent infant mental health inpatient unit in Australia.

The challenge involved incorporating the safety and functionality of an acute inpatient ward along with the homely desires of families seeking mental health support.

The newly formed team of 13 PIU staff members, including mental health, paediatric and maternal child health nurses, completed five weeks of attachment theory based training prior to the unit opening. The unit also has a part time senior psychiatric registrar and a one day per week perinatal psychiatric consultant.

The five bed, five cot unit is co-located within the Psychiatry Precinct of the new Bendigo Hospital allowing for the sharing of specialist services and support but a unit within its own right and space.

The majority of our admissions are non-compulsory and hence require families to recognise and acknowledge their own mental health needs and what an inpatient admission can offer them.

Criteria for admission is the primary carer is admitted to treat an acute mental illness. The infant must be under 12 months of age and not walking and accompanies the admitted parent to strengthen their relationship. Women in their third trimester of pregnancy can also be admitted.

There is often some ambivalence or fear associated with the unknown and the stigma of being admitted to a psychiatric unit, we therefore offer an opportunity for potential admissions to come and visit our unit first.

The unit offers large open spaces for safety and social connection as well as smaller more intimate areas for privacy. Partners are welcome to stay and siblings encouraged to visit often.

The average length of stay is about four weeks but can be anywhere from one to five weeks depending on the needs of the family. Families have been admitted from across the Loddon Mallee region and out of region when beds are available.

A purpose built unit to meet the needs of families in our regional world class hospital is something we are very proud of. The physical environment has a profound impact on a family’s ability to remain present and allow the therapeutic processes to improve their mental health and relationships with one another especially their vulnerable infant.

For more information visit the Bendigo Health website.

If you, or a loved one, is in need of urgent assistance please call the Psychiatric Regional Triage Service on 1300 363 788. This service operates 24 hours, seven days a week. The triage team accepts and screen all referrals and coordinates admission to the acute in-patient units, including PIU.

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