A new crisis stabilization unit at Lawrence Memorial Hospital has treated 25 people since it opened Aug. 4, a task force studying mental health care in the city was told Wednesday.
Members of the Community Health Improvement Project's Task Force on Mental Health Care said the number was impressive but they were unsure whether it meant Lawrence had a large enough demand to reopen a full-scale, inpatient mental health unit.
"We are kind of caught in between a rock and a hard space because of the size of community we are," said Alan Miller, a mental health advocate and task force member.
Several task force members said there was evidence Lawrence was not big enough to support an inpatient mental health unit. The city once had an inpatient unit at LMH, but hospital officials closed the last vestiges of it last year based on low usage and difficulties finding physicians to staff the unit. But since its closing, several mental health advocates have said the community is suffering because residents needing inpatient care now must travel to Topeka, Kansas City or the state hospital in Osawatomie.
The hospital opened its crisis stabilization unit in the emergency department to provide a place for people to stay up to 24 hours to receive treatment, or to serve as a safe place for people awaiting transport to an inpatient unit.
Task force members said they were pleased the crisis unit had been established but said there likely was still need for either Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the hospital or both to begin long-term planning for an inpatient health unit.
"I think you have to come to the conclusion that at some point there will be a need for an inpatient unit," said Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson, who is on the task force.
"Whether that need comes when (the community grows to) 200,000 people or if it is in year 2025, I don't know. But you have to figure we're headed in that direction."
The group will meet again at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department building.