Right now, one bathroom serves the close to 6,000 patients who each year go through the Stony Brook medical center's emergency psychiatric department, Suffolk County's busiest.

But an $8-million annex scheduled to open next year will change that, expanding the space for patients from 2,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet - and the number of bathrooms to six.

"The current space is woefully inadequate," said Dr. Mark Sedler, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral science, at a groundbreaking ceremony at the hospital Friday. "Stony Brook is really the fulcrum of emergency psychiatric care in the county."

The Stony Brook University Medical Center department, designated one of 18 Comprehensive Emergency Psychiatric Programs statewide, and the only one on Long Island, provides emergency psychiatric care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Licensed by the state and staffed with 19 psychiatrists, 24 residents, 43 nurses and eight social workers, it has broader powers than other hospitals that provide mental health services. For instance, it can hold someone for as long as 72 hours.

The new facility will have separate entrances for adults and children - a major feature of the expansion, said Dr. Steven Strongwater, the hospital's chief executive. About 20 percent of psychiatric patients are younger than 18, and giving them a "supportive" space is key, he said.

The annex will also have a separate entrance for police-escorted patients and a police waiting area; a private waiting area and doctor's office to fast track patients; a family waiting area; three double rooms and four single rooms to house patients for extended observation, and two patient interview rooms.

Robert Detor, chief executive of South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, the largest free-standing psychiatric hospital in the state, said the hospital receives most of its referrals from Stony Brook. He said giving that hospital more room will allow it to do more and better assessments.

"This is the place where the rubber hits the road," he said.

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