Hays example

If the medical center in Hays can find a way to offer even limited inpatient mental health care, perhaps Lawrence Memorial Hospital officials should try again to provide similar care.

Officials at Lawrence Memorial Hospital may be interested in a news item from Hays.

The Hays Medical Center announced last week that it would open a new inpatient psychiatric facility this summer for people 65 and older. Medical center leaders said the decision was made to respond to a special need in their area. The center sees up to five older patients a day who are in need of inpatient mental health services. The only option now is to send them up to 100 miles away to Abilene and Kinsley and most facilities have waiting lists.

The new 15-bed Hays facility is scheduled to open July 1, according to a news report, but patients will be admitted sooner if they are judged to be a threat to themselves or others.

Lawrence currently has no inpatient psychiatric facility for people of any age. LMH closed its mental health unit in 2004, because officials said that they were having trouble hiring psychiatrists to staff the unit and that the volume of patients didn’t justify such a facility.

There probably are significant differences in the situations faced in Lawrence and Hays, but there also seem to be some similarities. Lawrence has some inpatient facilities that are closer than 100 miles, but that doesn’t mean space will be available, especially with state funding cutbacks.

Although LMH cited hiring problems, Hays Medical Center was able to a hire a psychiatrist and expects to add 21 full-time equivalent positions to staff the new 15-bed facility. The fact that the facility will be restricted to people 65 and older isn’t ideal, but it’s a start and probably serves a special need among the aging population of many rural Kansas areas.

The point is that Hays saw a need and tried to address it. LMH officials certainly have done that in other treatment areas. They have gone to considerable effort and expense to hire additional doctors to expand cardiac services and provide radiation and chemotherapy services that many patients once had to travel to Topeka or Kansas City to obtain. Why not mental health care? In 2007, LMH reported that about 30 patients a month need to be transferred to Topeka or Kansas City hospitals for mental health care, but that was deemed insufficient to justify revisiting the issue of inpatient mental health care.

It would be sad if this boiled down to a purely financial issue, that perhaps providing mental health care simply isn’t as good for the hospital’s bottom line as providing cardiac or cancer care. Mental illness supposedly has come out of its historical shadows, but the need to provide mental health care still appears to be undervalued.

If the Hays Medical Center can figure out a way to support even limited inpatient services for mental health care, it seems LMH should at least make another effort to find a way to provide such services here in Lawrence.