To illustrate the need for inpatient mental health services in Lawrence, David Johnson cited a startling statistic Tuesday.
This month, he said, the state mental hospital in Osawatomie has treated 12 Douglas County patients. In all of 2003, when Lawrence Memorial Hospital still had its mental health unit operating, just 11 patients from Douglas County were treated at the state hospital.
"There is a definite change going on," said Johnson, chief executive officer at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
To reverse that trend, leaders from Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Bert Nash agreed Tuesday to work on finding ways to close the gap in the community's mental health offerings.
At a joint meeting of the organizations' board of directors, members agreed more Douglas County residents were being forced to go elsewhere for inpatient mental health care.
LMH board members requested Tuesday's meeting after closing the remnants of the hospital's mental health unit in May. Vickie Randel, chairwoman of the hospital's board of trustees, said LMH officials recognized there was a need for the services but closed the unit because it became difficult to find enough psychiatrists to staff the facility on a 24-hour basis.
"It is clear to me that we have a large gap in our community," Randel said. "We have to look for a cooperative way to solve it."
Randel, though, said the hospital didn't have plans to reopen the mental health unit. In addition to staffing problems, the unit was on pace to lose about $10,000 by the end of 2005, with the loss projected to grow to $330,000 by 2008.
Bert Nash board members asked hospital officials to put together a report that would detail staffing and the financial commitment required to reopen the unit. Jean Milstead, chairwoman of Bert Nash's board of directors, said Bert Nash might be able to provide some assistance.
"Maybe working together we can do something that neither of us can by ourselves," she said.
The two boards agreed to meet again but did not set a meeting time or a deadline for the report to be completed.
Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson urged the boards to tackle the issue.
"What I hear everyone saying is that we have limited resources, and I think that is true, but we should never use that as an excuse for limiting our vision," Johnson said. "I think what you ought to do is figure out what needs to be done and then we'll go out and find the resources. I think the community would really be behind you."
Board members discussed bringing other organizations into the planning process. For example, members said the Lawrence Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff's Office were incurring new costs. That's because any county resident who is committed involuntarily to the state hospital in Osawatomie, about 60 miles south of Lawrence, is transported by two law enforcement officers.
Marcia Epstein, director of Lawrence-based Headquarters Counseling Center, told board members some area residents might not be seeking needed mental health care because of fear they'll be sent to Osawatomie rather than being hospitalized closer to home.
"It makes their situations worse because they know if they get to a certain point, they'll have to leave their community," Epstein said.