Taking the First Step

Harsha Behavioral Center hosts drug symposium to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic

Indiana experienced a 35 percent increase in the number of fatal opioid overdoses in 2017, and the state had the 15th highest drug overdose rate in the nation. Opioid-related visits to the emergency room increased 70 percent in the Midwest between July 2016 and September 2017, and Indiana ranks 11th in the nation in opioid prescriptions.

These were just a few of the eye-opening facts shared in March at the inaugural West Central Indiana Drug Symposium in Terre Haute. Hosted by Harsha Behavioral Center, the symposium featured a number of high-profile speakers, including Jim McClelland, the state executive director of drug prevention, treatment, and enforcement, and Pam Pontones, deputy state health commissioner and state epidemiologist. Attendees included local health care, law enforcement, workforce, community, and school leaders.

“We wanted to bring everyone together to discuss how we can collaborate to address and prevent addiction,” said Roopam Harshawat, president and CEO of Harsha Behavioral Center. “It will take time and effort, but this was an important first step toward moving forward.”


Harshawat and her husband, Dr. Paras Harshawat, a child psychiatrist, opened Harsha Behavioral Center in 2008. The couple had moved to Terre Haute in 1989 after Dr. Harshawat joined Charter Hospital, where he served as medical director for almost 10 years. When Charter Hospital closed in 2000, the Harshawats recognized the community still needed its services.

“There was a tremendous need for behavioral health care in the area, especially for children,” Harshawat said. “It was very inconvenient for families to have to travel long distances for care. We wanted to help them.”

Originally founded as a hospital providing behavioral health care to children and adolescents, Harsha Behavioral Center has expanded twice over the years. Today, the facility serves patients of all ages and has a total of 81 beds, with 24 for adolescents, 21 for geriatric patients, 20 for adults, and 16 for children. Four beds are designated for children with autism—a population that traditionally has a difficult time finding care.

“We take some of the most challenging populations,” Harshawat said. “Many of our patients have very big developmental disabilities.”

In 2016, the hospital opened a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility. The new, open space features a number of courtyards full of fountains and plants. Light pours in from the floor-to-ceiling windows, creating a peaceful, therapeutic atmosphere.

“We wanted to bring the outdoors in and not follow the traditional psychiatric hospital model,” Harshawat said, noting the hospital sought out a fresh perspective by hiring an architect who had never designed a behavioral acute care hospital before.

It was important for the new facility to appeal to both patients and staff.

“Our staff spend the majority of their waking hours at our workplace. We wanted to create an appealing work environment for them,” Harshawat said. “We value our staff, and hopefully they feel good about working here.”

Harshawat notes that she and her husband pride themselves on the fact that Harsha Behavioral Center is independently owned and operated. The resulting  freedom has allowed them to focus on what matters most to them.

“We strive to do the best we can in all areas, whether it be patient care, facilities, or employees. The quality is what drives us,” Harshawat said.


Harsha Behavioral Center has experienced its share of challenges over the years. The hospital serves a number of patients from nearby Illinois, and for the first two years of its existence, it had difficulties receiving payment from Illinois Medicaid. Like much of the state, Terre Haute is experiencing a shortage of health care professionals, and recruiting physicians is no easy task. In addition, insurers generally cover a length of stay of only three to five days.

“The length of stay has decreased dramatically over the years. In the ’80s, patients stayed 30 days, more recently you could get them to stay for a week or so, and now it’s three to five days. It’s very difficult to treat a behavioral health patient in such few days. You can’t even scratch the surface,” Harshawat said. “The patients are back in a week, and it costs everybody more in the long run.”

And, of course, the opioid crisis is exacting its toll. That’s why Harshawat and her team organized the West Central Indiana Drug Symposium.

“The whole community is suffering from the addiction crisis. To truly address it and help patients, we need to raise awareness and discuss how we can work and collaborate together,” said Harshawat. “We must provide a continuum of care and recovery support services once patients are discharged. Without that, their treatment is not going to be effective.”