The mental health unit at Lawrence Memorial Hospital will remain open after all, and it will be combined with a new geriatric psychiatric service.
The LMH Board of Trustees made the decision in a unanimous vote during its Wednesday meeting.
Gene Meyer, LMH chief executive
"This proposal will not change anything concerning our adult psychiatric services," said Gene Meyer, LMH chief executive.
But the addition of geriatric mental health services will address the needs of a broad range of senior citizens, said Dr. Bonita Peterson, LMH chief operating officer. Most geriatric patients never had previous mental health problems, he said, but the aging process or the loss of a spouse can lead to new behavioral and emotional stresses.
The board's action allows LMH to begin negotiating with Universal Health Services to manage the unit. Universal Health was one of three companies studied as a possible management partner, Meyer and Peterson said.
Universal Health manages mental health services at other hospitals, as well as free-standing units such as Two Rivers Psychiatric Center in Raytown, Mo.
Some renovations will be necessary to LMH's existing mental health unit, but they will be minimal, Peterson said.
Universal will bring in three people to manage the unit and handle outreach programs, Peterson said. Other staff members will be from LMH, she said.
The LMH decision comes at the end of a year in which trustees were urged to close the mental health unit. It lost more than $300,000 in 1999, mainly because of changes in recent years to insurance reimbursement policies.
The unit has a 16-bed capacity but has been averaging only four patients a day.
During a community meeting on the issue in August, however, many residents said closing the unit would cause hardship among the county's mentally ill. The hospital staff began looking for ways to keep it open.
Jane Bateman, chairwoman of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's Governing Board of Directors, was pleased by the LMH decision.
"I think it's great that they could bring two groups of people together and be able to help them," she said.
The geriatric services will serve a senior citizen population of about 50,000 people within 25 miles of Lawrence, Peterson said. Estimates say about 400 people will need services per year. The unit will support up to nine admitted patients from long-term care facilities and the community, she said.
Combining the two mental health services will offset the financial losses and ultimately get the unit "back on track," Meyer said.
"This has been a long, important process," he said.