Lawrence Memorial Hospital is making progress on its expanded mental health unit.
Last year, the city's only in-patient unit was in jeopardy of shutting down because of a $300,000 loss and a decline in patients. On an average day, only four of the unit's 16 beds were occupied.
After much discussion on closing the unit, the community responded.
Many spoke in favor of keeping it open, because the closing would mean that those in need would have to travel out of town for long-term treatment. The hospital held a community forum and listened to the feedback.
Ultimately, the hospital found a way to keep the unit.
In October, the LMH Board of Trustees unanimously voted to add a geriatric-psychiatric program to the unit.
Now, three months later, construction is nearly complete and additional staff members are in the process of being hired.
Bonnie Peterson, Lawrence Memorial Hospital senior vice president, says the addition of the specialized gero-psych program has allowed the hospital to apply for an exempt status. Essentially, the hospital will get a better reimbursement plan from Medicare.
"If you have a specialized unit with some of these programs and you can demonstrate you have a population that needs these specialized services, they will reimburse you differently," Peterson says.
Right now, the hospital has a provisional exemption. Before it is fully exempt, the unit must pass a final survey the patient safety inspection by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
"They'll come back and do a walk-through and make sure we've addressed all the safety issues that they require, and then we'll be up and running and we'll have full exemption," she says.
Although LMH had originally planned to have the unit ready by Jan. 1, construction delays have pushed that date back to Feb. 15.
Peterson says, "We promised the state we would have all the facility issues addressed by Feb. 15, and I think we're running a little ahead of that schedule."
One of those changes includes extra locks. The unit must be locked to prevent the patients from wandering off.
LMH is working with Universal Health Services to ensure all the proper guidelines are followed. UHS also will provide leadership in setting up the gero-psych program, a separate entity within the mental health facility.
"We will be able to serve both populations," Peterson says.
In addition to aesthetic changes and state requirements, the hospital also must hire additional staff members for the unit, including a program manager, nurse manager and medical director.
"The medical director is a key piece for us, and that's going to be important because that's the physician who will provide the medical leadership for the unit," Peterson says.
Right now, board members are hiring for these positions and should have an announcement within the next two weeks. And within the next four weeks, Lawrence will have a mental health unit that's as good as new.
"We want people to feel that they can come to the mental health unit to get well and we want it to be a very warm and friendly environment," Peterson says.