Dr. Hoang Nguyen Appointed Medical Director, CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center

A psychiatrist with a long history of service in Orange County, Dr. Hoang “Wayne” Nguyen has been appointed medical director of the CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center. He will also serve as medical director, child and adolescent psychiatry and chair of the psychiatry section of CHOC’s medical staff.

Dr. Nguyen earned his medical degree at Texas A&M University Health Sciences Center, followed by additional training at University of California, Irvine and University of Utah Health Science Center, where he served as chief resident. He is a diplomate with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in child/adolescent psychiatry and general psychiatry, as well as being board certified in psychosomatic medicine.

Dr. Hoang “Wayne” Nguyen, medical director, CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center

In addition to seeing patients in private practice, Dr. Nguyen has been a consulting psychiatrist for Fairview Development Center. There, he also served as chief of medical staff for five years. He was director of undergraduate medical education for psychiatry at University of California, Irvine, where he still holds an appointment as associate clinical professor.

Having joined CHOC’s medical staff in 2000, Dr. Nguyen has been integrally involved in the development of the Center. When it opens in April 2018, the 12,000-square foot, 18-bed facility will be the only one in Orange County to treat patients younger than 12. It is the only facility in California to offer all private rooms, as well as an option for parents to stay overnight with their children, as appropriate.

“I am extremely proud of CHOC’s commitment to creating a mental health system of care, including the Center as its centerpiece,” says Dr. Nguyen. “A child’s mental health is as important as physical health, and we are committed to making sure children and adolescents with mental illnesses receive high quality services without stigma or barriers to access.”

With Dr. Nguyen as its medical director, the Center will serve patients ages 3 to 17, with specialty programming available to children 12 and younger. Patients will participate in therapeutic programming seven days a week, which is unique among inpatient facilities. During their stay, typically five to seven days, patients will also have access to medical specialists if assessments suggest a relationship between the mental health condition and an underlying health issue.

CHOC’s broad and robust pediatric system of mental health care has been built to facilitate early diagnosis, intervention and treatment of pediatric mental health problems.

The system’s components include the ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s, designed to prevent psychiatric hospitalization and re-admission; mental health screenings in primary and specialty care settings; pediatric mental health training for community health care providers, school personnel and therapists; and a co-occurring clinic for patients with mental health challenges complicated by physical illnesses.

Other aspects include mental health triage at the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital; an early childhood mental health initiative set to begin in spring 2018 that is aimed at reducing behavior-related suspensions from child care and preschool settings; and faith community partnerships.

Learn more about CHOC’s mental health services.

CHOC Children’s Celebrates Completion of Mental Health Inpatient Center

CHOC Children’s leaders joined with mental health supporters today to celebrate the completion of our pediatric health care system’s Mental Health Inpatient Center, which will provide the first psychiatric inpatient beds in Orange County for children younger than 12 years old.

Set to open in April 2018, the 12,000-square foot, 18-bed facility will serve children ages 3 to 17. It is the only facility in California to offer all private rooms, as well as an option for parents to stay overnight with their children, as appropriate.

One in five children experience a diagnosable mental health condition during childhood — about 150,000 children in Orange County alone. Previously, the absence of designated space to treat young patients and a shortage of beds for adolescents in Orange County meant that often children with serious mental health episodes remained in emergency departments for days at a time waiting for a bed in an outside county.

One of the Center’s activity rooms.

“For the first time, Orange County children younger than 12 experiencing a mental health crisis will have a place for care close to home,” CHOC President and CEO Kimberly Chavalas Cripe said. “The Center’s completion is evidence of CHOC’s commitment to ensuring that every Orange County youth receives the mental health care services they need in a safe and healing environment.”

The Center’s other unique features include two sensory rooms – one sensory-rich and the other low-stimulation to help children learn to manage strong emotions and calm themselves. In addition, the facility includes a 3,600-square-foot outdoor play area with sensory activities and a basketball court.

The Center’s innovative floor plan was designed with guidance from national experts and incorporates elements of several exemplary programs observed by CHOC staff. It was built with two primary goals in mind: patient safety and creating an optimal healing environment. The facility incorporates safety features such as shatterproof glass, special high-density materials, doors that open one at a time, and many other measures. The design includes elements of nature, curved features and a soothing color palette to promote healing and relaxation.

With pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Hoang “Wayne” D. Nguyen as its medical director, the Center will offer specialty programming to children 12 and younger. Patients will participate in therapeutic programming seven days per week, which is unique among inpatient facilities. During their stay, typically five to seven days, patients will also have access to medical specialists if assessments suggest a relationship between the mental health condition and an underlying health issue.

CHOC broke ground on the Center in September 2016. The Center was announced in May 2015 as the centerpiece of a pediatric system of mental health care that would be scalable and replicable by other health systems nationwide.

“CHOC is committed to the truth that mental health is as important as physical health,” Cripe said. “Put simply, health is health. We want to create a system that others can replicate and help empower health systems across the country to support children’s mental health.”

CHOC’s broad and robust pediatric system of mental health care has been built to facilitate early diagnosis, intervention and treatment of pediatric mental health problems.

The system’s components include the ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s, designed to prevent psychiatric hospitalization and re-admission; mental health screenings in primary and specialty care settings; pediatric mental health training for community health care providers, school personnel and therapists; and a co-occurring clinic for patients with mental health challenges complicated by physical illnesses.

Other aspects include mental health triage at the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital; an early childhood mental health initiative set to begin in spring 2018 that is aimed at reducing behavior-related suspensions from child care and preschool settings; and faith community partnerships.

“While the Mental Health Inpatient Center at CHOC Children’s will support children and families while in crisis, we cannot meet all the needs for pediatric mental health care alone,” Cripe said. “By joining with our community partners, we are working together to ensure that children get the help they need when they need it and where they need it.”

Learn more about CHOC’s mental health services at www.choc.org/mentalhealth.

Meet Dr. Micaela Thordarson

CHOC Children’s wants its referring physicians to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Micaela Thordarson, lead psychologist, ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s. 

Q: What is your education and training?

A: I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from UCLA with a minor in Spanish. I earned my PhD and master’s degree in clinical psychology from Palo Alto University with a specialization in children, adolescents and families. I completed my pre-doctoral internship with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and my post-doctoral fellowship with Geisinger Health Systems in Pennsylvania.

Q: What are your special clinical interests?

A: I am particularly passionate about working with high-risk pediatric patients. I have done a great deal of work with suicidal and self-harming youth and their families. As a bilingual clinician in Spanish and English, I am also very interested in the interactions between mental health and cultural identities, for example, race/ethnicity, gender, religion and age.

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?

A: I joined CHOC in October 2017.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?

A: Depression, anxiety, and major life stressors are the most common difficulties our patients face.

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about the ASPIRE® Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s?

A: Our eight-week intensive outpatient mental health treatment program – the only pediatric-dedicated one of its kind in Orange County — is designed to serve a broad range of emotional and behavioral difficulties for high-school aged teens 13-18. It includes individual and family sessions, and crisis support as needed. If the teens and families you serve could possibly benefit from an intensive program, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Additionally, we aim to collaborate closely with all the important stakeholders in our patients’ lives. This includes primary care physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, educators and coaches.

Q: What would you most like patients and families to know about ASPIRE®?

A: While our program is hard work, it’s pretty fun to be a part of! The daily after-school programming for teens and their families is all interactive, including art and other expressive therapies, and designed to teach and practice new skills in fun ways.

Q: What excites you most about the program?

A: I am so excited to be able to offer a very important service to teens and families who are in crisis and need extra support. The program we offer is guided by research and has been carefully constructed to generate the best outcomes possible.

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered at CHOC?

A: I have worked with a number of different organizations and teams since I began my career in the mental health field. The team at CHOC is unparalleled in its enthusiastic dedication to innovation and excellence in the care of children.

Q: Why did you decide to become a psychologist?

A: I fell in love with the field of psychology immediately after taking my first job at a crisis shelter for teens. Getting to witness, and even participate in, the incredible changes these youths made in their lives in a few short weeks was inspirational. I knew that was work I wanted to be a part of for the rest of my career.

Q: If you weren’t a psychologist, what would you be and why?

A: Either a zookeeper, so I could spend time with cool animals every day, or a Disney princess at one of the theme parks so I could wear awesome costumes and play with kids all day.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?

A: I love spending time with my family, hiking with my dog, and eating delicious food. I have a huge family and we have a lot of fun together!

To contact Dr. Thordarson, or to refer a patient, please call 714-509-8481.

CHOC Launches Mental Health Intensive Outpatient Program

A new intensive outpatient program at CHOC Children’s will offer solutions to teenagers and their families seeking hope and intervention for emerging mental health problems.

The ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s is designed for teens who show moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health problems.

Participants ages 13 to 18 attend after-school programming for three hours a day, four days a week in sessions that span eight weeks total.

Run by experienced, licensed clinicians who specialize in working with teens, ASPIRE incorporates therapy, mindfulness exercises, coping and problem-solving skills, art therapy and other expressive therapies to help teens develop and practice healthy behaviors and how to manage their feelings, emotions and personal interactions.

Parents or guardians also participate in family counseling and skills groups two days a week in the late afternoon and early evening.

A board-certified adolescent psychiatrist is also available for consultation and medication management, as is case coordination with other medical providers and the teen’s school, and crisis support.

Teens who could benefit from the program may exhibit a range of behaviors:

  • Moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Extreme emotional outbursts
  • Significant conflict with family or friends
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Decreases in functioning at home or school
  • Self-harming behaviors, such as cutting, burning, pulling out hair, excessive picking and scratching the body to cause bleeding

Time in the program is spent on identifying interventions that can aid participants in a variety of ways:

  • Improve symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Improve functioning at home, school, and with friends
  • Develop new skills to cope with stress.
  • Establish new and healthy behaviors to learn how to manage feelings, emotions, and personal interactions.

ASPIRE® is a component of CHOC’s landmark pediatric mental health system of care launched in spring 2015 to ensure children, adolescents and young adults with mental illness get the services and support they need.

The system of care also includes outpatient support for patients whose physical conditions are complicated by mental health challenges; mental health screenings for all 12-year-olds at their well child visits with CHOC pediatricians; and an increased presence of psychologists and social workers in the Julia & George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital.

The cornerstone of the wide-ranging effort is the CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center, set to open this spring at CHOC Children’s Hospital. With 18 beds, it will be the first unit in Orange County to accommodate children younger than 12.

Call 714-509-8481 to refer a patient to the ASPIRE® (After School Program Interventions and Resiliency Education) Intensive Outpatient Program at CHOC Children’s.

Five Tips to Help Doctors De-Stress

By Dr. Carla Weis

 As physicians, we put the health and well-being of others before our own.   The passion to help others is what inspired us to pursue the journey into modern medicine. Noble work? Absolutely. Work that justifies destroying our own physical health and perhaps soul? No.

Dr. Carla Weis, board-certified neonatologist and member of CHOC Children’s Specialists.

How can we truly serve others, if we don’t take care of ourselves? Put your own oxygen mask on first, right? For most healthcare professionals, this is easier said than done. But I ask you, how can we be fully present for our patients’ healing and provide them with the best possible outcomes, if we ignore our own spirit and soul?

The answer is quite simple: “Physician, health thyself.” How? First, examine yourself and how you live. It’s hard to take this first step, however, when we feel so much stress. In fact, we often accept stress as a way of life. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few tips to find relief from stress.

  1. De-clutter

De-cluttering is often touted as an important step in de-stressing, and in fact, it is a huge part of facilitating a greater sense of inner peace. Make a commitment to yourself that over the course of several months you will get rid of all that stuff in your home that doesn’t add joy to your life.  Consider renting a large bin or dumpster, have it delivered to your driveway or the front of your house, and just start tossing stuff.  You’ll be amazed at how fast it fills up and how much of a difference there is in your sense of calmness and inner peace.  A good rule of thumb is to keep only what you need or love.  We keep so many things that are simply carrying an emotional attachment for us, but are unnecessary and drag us down on many levels.

I highly recommend reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

2.  Meditation

Meditation is one of those things we know would be good to do, and maybe even recommend it to our patients, but it will always hold the lowest position on our list of priorities. Why is that?  Well, we just don’t have the time, of course.  That’s the funny thing about meditating.  It takes time and that’s exactly what we don’t have enough of!

Years ago, I joined a gym and took advantage of the free consultation with a personal trainer. She asked me what my fitness goals were. I thought about how uncomfortable it was to do cardio and I wanted to be more comfortable with cardio.   I said, “I’d like to be more fit on a cardiovascular level.” She said, “Ok, add 20 minutes of cardio training to every workout.”

I was silently aghast. I didn’t say I wanted to do more cardio.  I just wanted to be better at it.  And so, I learned a very poignant lesson. The only way to become better or more comfortable at doing something is to do more of it.  If you would like to have more inner peace in your life, more quiet time, guess what? You must bring more inner peace and quiet time into your life.

Start with just five or 10 minutes a day. Find a time that works best for you.  For me, it’s first thing in the morning before I’m even really awake.  For others, it’s at night before sleep.  And for some, it’s both.  You choose.  Just set the timer on your phone and sit quietly with your eyes closed, focusing on your breath and relaxing your body with each breath.  Bring your attention to your body inwardly.  It’s useful to simply practice the art of noticing any distracting thoughts as they come in and then bringing your attention back to your breath and the present.  You may find that this is the best part of your day!

3. Love yourself more

We take care of others, but how good are we at taking care of ourselves? Pay attention to the inner dialogue within your mind as you go about your day.  Do you talk nicely to yourself?  Often, we speak quite harshly to ourselves and aren’t even aware of it.  Take moments during the day to be aware of your inner dialogue and then redirect the way you speak to yourself in your mind.  Re-train yourself to talk lovingly to and supportive of yourself.  Realize that the most important person to give and show your love to, is yourself.  From there, you will have so much more love to share with others. “Physician, heal thyself!”

4. Invest in a stress -reduction program

Invest in a stress reduction program. I highly recommend receiving a stress-reducing modality called a Life Activation, where you will receive a greater connection to your spirit within.

5. Bring spirituality into your life

What does this really mean? Are we talking about God?  Religion? A higher power?  Don’t we often think of spirituality as something for mystics and philosophy buffs to ponder?

Spirituality gets lumped into those areas of our lives that we’d love to pay more attention to at some point — when we have more time. When is that?  No doubt, life is busy.  But the truth about spirituality is that it’s part of who we are.  It’s not about worshipping a God in the sky or giving our power away to any religious figure.   Maybe it’s something we’ve allocated only to one day a week.  And, of course, as physicians, we often work on that day, so we get a pass from spirituality, right?

I suggest starting to explore what spirituality means to you. There’s no right answer and in fact, the answers are infinite!  Because we are infinite!

Dr. Carla Weis is a board-certified neonatologist and member of CHOC Children’s Specialists. She practices primarily in the neonatal intensive care unit at Hoag Hospital Newport Beach.  She received her medical degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, and completed her fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).  Her metaphysical/spiritual training has been with the Modern Mystery School, International.  Her primary focus is supporting healthcare workers to find balance in their lives, and guiding others to explore life concepts including and beyond the physical. 

Continue to follow the blog for more helpful tips from Dr. Weis.