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Archive for Monday, July 31, 2000

LMH considers mental health unit shutdown

July 31, 2000

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Lawrence Memorial Hospital's Mental Health Unit should be closed, according to a recent study prepared by a hospital committee.

Other options are being considered, but none includes operation of the unit as it is now.

LMH decided to review the status of its mental unit because its operation lost $300,000 last year and it consistently has a low number of inpatients.

The LMH Board of Trustees will conduct a public hearing on the issue at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 7 in the hospital's auditorium.

"There hasn't been a decision made," said Gene Meyer, LMH chief executive officer. "There probably won't be one made that night. We want to give the public a chance to voice their opinions.

"We'll look at some options and see what effect those options could have on various groups," Meyer said. "There is some middle ground that may be a good half-way point."

The study includes the following options:

Development of a Gero-Psychiatric Unit.

The unit would focus on the psychiatric needs of older adults experiencing emotional difficulties such as depression and anxiety. Conditions might be brought on by strokes or Alzheimer's disease.

Closed unit.

Currently LMH has an open unit. If it were a closed or secure unit, it could handle unstable and acutely ill mental health patients. It would then serve a higher volume of patients. There would be a renovation cost. This is an option that has been rejected by LMH in the past.

Observation and Referral Unit.

This unit would allow patients in an immediate crisis to get help until arrangements could be made for outpatient treatment or hospitalization. These would be short hospital stays.

Consultative and decentralized service.

A consultative service would provide multidisciplinary psychiatric consultation to patients hospitalized for medical reasons on any LMH unit. A decentralized program would allow a psychiatric patient to be hospitalized on a medical unit.

Few patients

Not only did the unit lose $300,000 lasy year, but changes in insurance reimbursement policies in recent years means the mental health unit averages only four inpatients a day, Meyer said. The unit has a 16-bed capacity.

Nevertheless, closing the unit would cause a hardship among those who need its help, said Hilda Enoch, who served many years on the Project Acceptance Board of Directors. Project Acceptance is a drop-in center and temporary home for people with mental illness.

"Most of them are long-time residents of Lawrence and Douglas County and it does seem to me that they have as much right to treatment when they need it as any other citizen in Lawrence," Enoch said in a letter to Meyer and Donna Bell, chairwoman of the LMH Board of Trustees.

Many times, Enoch said, she has seen people with mental illnesses have relapses and have to be hospitalized until medication could again stabilize them.

"I would respectfully ask each of you to figure out a way to do more, not less, to reintegrate our citizens with serious mental illnesses back into our community to become the productive citizens almost all that I have met are striving to be," Enoch said.

Sharilyn Wells, director of Project Acceptance, agreed.

"I understand the hospital's situation, but we really need to have a mental health unit," she said.

Wells, who said she once sought mental health treatment herself, said some patients need more inpatient care than two or three days. Seeking treatment out of town could be prohibitive, she said.

"The logistics of getting people to some other place is difficult," she said.

If the unit is closed, patients will have to go out of town for mental health care. They will go to public hospitals in Topeka and Kansas City or to state mental hospitals.

"We have a pretty good working relationship with Lawrence," said Patrick Burnau, senior vice president at Menninger's Mental Health Center, Topeka. "I'm sure we'd do whatever we could to help."

Lawrence police sometimes encounter individuals they think may be a danger to themselves or others because of mental instability. Officers will take them to LMH, where they may be voluntarily committed.

If individuals refuse to be committed voluntarily, then staff members from Bert Nash Mental Health Center can have them committed following an evaluation, said Det. M.T. Brown, police spokesman. Many times those individuals are transported to state hospitals in Larned or Osawatomie by Douglas County Sheriff's officers or by police, he said.

"We have not been briefed on any contingency plans at this time if LMH does close it down," Brown said of the mental health unit.

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