Mentally ill to be helped by remodel

Commissioners tour LMH emergency room

A $150,000 remodeling of the Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room to better serve mentally ill patients will open Aug. 1.

Gene Meyer, president and chief executive officer of the hospital, gave city commissioners a tour of the hospital’s new crisis stabilization area on Wednesday. The crisis area includes two private patient rooms that will be reserved for patients who need immediate treatment for mental illness.

Meyer told city commissioners the new space would allow mental health patients to be removed from the often chaotic emergency room. In cases where patients need to transfer to an inpatient mental health hospital, the area will provide patients a safe place to await transport, he said.

“What we want to avoid, not that we believe it has happened in the past, is a premature dismissal of a patient or a dismissal where the patient’s safety isn’t fully protected,” Meyer said.

The project also will add the equivalent of four new full-time staff positions – mainly nurses and managers – to staff the service.

City commissioners said they were impressed with the new area, which is where the waiting room for the emergency room previously was located. But commissioners said they would have to see specific results before they could determine whether the area would eliminate the need for the hospital to reopen an inpatient mental health unit that was has been phased out in the past two years.

“In a perfect world, I would like to have Lawrence and Douglas County residents with mental health needs treated here in Lawrence,” said City Commissioner Sue Hack. “Whether it is going to be feasible for us to do that, I don’t know yet.”

City Commissioner Mike Rundle also said he thought the crisis stabilization area would be a major improvement in the area’s mental health care. But he said LMH officials needed to be open to doing more.

“I think it is a great step that you have taken, but I think we may still be leaning on you to join in on this problem-solving process that we’re going through right now,” Rundle said. “Mental health and physical health are so intertwined. I think it is real important that the hospital have a role in solving this problem.”

Meyer said the hospital was an active member of the Community Health Improvement Project’s special task force on mental health issues. The group currently is studying whether the community needs an inpatient mental health unit. Meyer said the hospital was looking forward to the group’s recommendations.

City commissioners also were briefed on the hospital’s finances and its planned $35 million expansion, which includes a new emergency department, surgical areas and the creation of new private patient rooms. The briefing was part of a luncheon meeting with members of the hospital’s board of trustees.

The nonprofit hospital is owned by the city but is run by a board of trustees appointed by city commissioners.