⚫ RWJUH Somerset has opened its newly renovated eating disorders unit

⚫ The state-of-the-art facility promotes healing, wellness, and recovery for all

⚫ The new unit offers 20 beds, curved lines and nature-based lighting

Renovations on the eating disorder unit have been completed at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset, unveiling an expanded state-of-the-art facility and creating a more inviting environment for patients and their treatment and recovery.

RWJUH Somerset’s eating disorder program is one of only two inpatient eating disorder programs in the state, with the other being at Princeton House Behavioral Health in Princeton, said RWJUH’s Vice President of Behavioral Health Services, Christine Belluardo.

With the renovations, the unit at RWJUH has expanded from a 14-bed unit to a 20-bed unit. The unit is broken into two separate units so there is 10 beds designated for adults and 10 beds designed for adolescents ages 14-17.

They are split because their programming needs are very different, Belluardo said.
In fact, RWJUH Somerset’s eating disorders unit is the only inpatient eating disorder program in New Jersey that includes separate designated spaces for adults and adolescents to better address their unique needs, she added.

What does the renovated unit look like?

Belluardo said in all her 30 years in behavioral health services, she has never seen a unit like this before. “I wish all behavioral health services units looked like this,” she said.

Very important is that there is nothing sterile-looking about this unit. It is not your typical cold, prison-like, bland atmosphere you may expect, she said.

There is a biophilic design to the unit, which means, it focuses on the aspects of the natural world that contribute to human health and productivity.

“That’s about including circadian lighting which is lighting that works in harmony with our internal clocks. So, there are six colors that change to mimic the natural pattern of the sun throughout the day and the night on the unit,” Bellurado said.

It has been shown to promote better sleep, mood, and energy, she added.
Also, there are a lot of curved lines and colors of greens and blues, which are part of the biophilic design. So, when patients walk into the unit, there is a sense of calm, and a peaceful atmosphere, which is so important, she said.

There are also plans for a garden area where horticultural therapy will be provided. It’s an ancient practice that attests to its effectiveness for people with physical, mental, emotional, and social disabilities.

“Plants don’t discriminate. They’re non-threatening. They respond to anyone giving them care. Success with plants can give hope with successes and other aspects of their life,” Belluardo said.

Do the patients like the new unit?

Belluardo said having a unit that does not resemble a typical hospital setting, and instead is one of comfort, tranquility, and peace, certainly does play a part in helping with the treatment process. She has seen that positive reception firsthand.

She said the unit had to be opened in two stages. Ten beds were opened several months ago. The first day the kids were moved into the new unit, she said they were jumping up and down, and squealing with joy over what they saw before them.

She believes that this new unit, which provides such an inviting atmosphere, will help more and more patients to want to seek treatment for their eating disorders.

Of course, once they are in the door and feel comfortable, the quality of the care has to be just as exceptional.

“They’re with us for a long time. Some patients are with us for three months, sometimes more, sometimes a little less. But this really does become sort of a second home for them for quite a long time. So, we have to make it as comfortable and home-like as possible,” Belluardo said.

How serious are eating disorders?

Belluardo has enlightened us on a number of alarming statistics and facts concerning eating disorders.

Eating disorders affect more than 28 million Americans and in New Jersey, 375,000 people have an eating disorder.

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, which is a statistic that startles many people, she said.

Someone dies every 52 minutes in the U.S. as a direct result of an eating disorder.

If left untreated, eating disorders can lead to a variety of life-threatening illnesses, such as cardiac and thyroid issues, heart attacks, and even death. She said almost every organ and system in the human body is affected by an eating disorder.

Having an eating disorder is not a choice. It is a serious, biological illness that cannot be cured by telling someone, “just eat,” she said. Patients are tortured by this disorder on a daily basis and must undergo severe treatment.

Eating disorder cases have significantly increased over the past few years due to stress and isolation caused by the COVID pandemic, Belluardo said. The pandemic caused many people, especially adolescents to be cut off from the outside world, causing them severe anxiety and stress.

She said there have been more adolescents coming through their doors at RWJUH Somerset since then, with eating disorders.

For more information on RWJUH Somerset’s Eating Disorders Program, visit here.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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