SRHW to close mental health unitWORTHINGTON — Effective July 1, Sanford Regional Hospital Worthington will no longer offer inpatient behavioral health services. The closure of the hospital’s behavioral health unit and transition of behavioral health services to Avera Marshall Regional Health Center was announced Tuesday at a press conference that included Marshall hospital staff via teleconference.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Effective July 1, Sanford Regional Hospital Worthington will no longer offer inpatient behavioral health services. The closure of the hospital’s behavioral health unit and transition of behavioral health services to Avera Marshall Regional Health Center was announced Tuesday at a press conference that included Marshall hospital staff via teleconference.
“Behavioral health services has been a challenge in southwest Minnesota for some time,” said Lynn Olson, SRHW chief executive officer, referring to three studies done over the course of a decade that showed that the local demand for behavioral health services was six beds or less. “… We had gradually been seeing our numbers dwindling. We have been averaging about three patients per day.”
Olson noted that the overall trend in behavioral health care is to treat patients in less intense settings and in their own communities, with a focus away from inpatient facilities.
“Outpatient settings are better for the patient and for the taxpayer,” he said.
“A small census means we can’t offer the breadth of services our patients need,” Olson elaborated in a press release. “For example, group therapy is difficult with small numbers. Working together with other entities and organizations truly provides a better service for the people of southwest Minnesota.”
A community task force that included representatives from SRHW, Avera Marshall, Nobles County Social Services, Avera Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Southwest Mental Health Center recommended the creation of one behavioral health system for southwest Minnesota. Since the Avera system has a stronger emphasis in behavioral health, it was determined that the Marshall hospital would be the best location for the inpatient system.
The Marshall hospital’s behavioral health unit opened in July 2007 and has about a dozen staff members and two full-time psychiatrists. It offers both inpatient and outpatient services. In Worthington, outpatient services are offered through Southwest Mental Health Clinic and Avera Worthington Specialty Clinics.
“Even if it might be for the best, it’s a tough discussion” to consider discontinuing a vital service in a rural region, Olson acknowledged.
“It is really an opportunity for us to collectively work together in southwest Minnesota to enhance mental health services,” said Mary Maertens, Avera Marshall CEO. “We anticipate that through this collaborative effort we will be able to improve and enhance services for those in acute mental health crisis as well as those who need ongoing mental health support.”
The logistics of the transition — including the creation of a triage and transportation system for behavioral health patients — will be worked out in the coming months. County officials were informed of the decision earlier Tuesday. Olson stressed that local law enforcement and social service agencies will be involved in ongoing discussions.
“We want to ensure that their needs are being met and help them do their jobs as safely as possible,” he said.
Olson also announced the closure of the unit to SRHW staff just prior to the press conference. The behavioral health unit staff currently includes nine full-time employees, and the change will affect 13 staff altogether, Olson said.
“As a company, we made the decision to retain everybody,” he stated. “We did not cut anybody’s job, but we will probably be overstaffed for a while.”
Staff members have already been cross-trained for other departments, Olson noted, and the extra personnel may also be utilized in the hospital’s upcoming conversion to electronic medical records.
As far as the SRHW space currently devoted to behavioral health, Olson said the area will be redesigned as part of an already announced $2.3 million remodeling project at the hospital, which will go forward in the near future.
“We will be unveiling the plan when it is ready,” he said. “We have the money committed, and we want to spend it as wisely as possible.”
Both Olson and Maertens expressed a commitment to working together to ensure a “seamless” transition for staff and patients at both hospitals in the coming months. The task force will continue to meet weekly up until and after July to work out any issues with the transition.