Monday, March 26, 2012

Plans to close Alabama's state psychiatric are dropped. “The main concern is they are going to shut down the state hospitals and not have the resources in place in the community,” said Connie Ewing, president of the Mobile Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness."

Community concerns persist after deadline to close Searcy dropped

Published: Monday, March 26, 2012, 7:11 AM
Casandra Andrews, Press-Register 
searcy hospital.jpgSearcy Hospital
MOBILE, Alabama -- What’s next for Searcy Hospital and its 240 patients?
Concerns persist among local mental health advocates and family members of the mentally ill about the Mount Vernon hospital’s eventual closing, and events that would follow.
Leaders with AltaPointe Health System, which operates a psychiatric hospital in Mobile, 22 group homes and plans to soon open another hospital in Daphne, say they are ready to serve many Searcy patients, so long as adequate funding is available.
Searcy Hospital, established in 1902, provides care for adult psychiatric patients in south Alabama. Of the patients there now, about 120 hail from the Mobile area.
It’s immediate future is in flux.
A month ago, the state announced a plan to shut Searcy, Greil Memorial Psychiatric Hospital in Montgomery and North Alabama Regional Hospital in Decatur by Sept. 30, eliminating more than 900 jobs.
Such closures have been a longtime goal of the state Department of Mental Health, so that patients could flow into community-based treatment programs, putting them closer to their homes and families and to familiar surroundings.
But, 10 days ago, Gov. Robert Bentley and Mental Health Commissioner Zelia Baugh said they were re-evaluating the plan and considering keeping some of the hospitals open, at least temporarily.
“The main concern is they are going to shut down the state hospitals and not have the resources in place in the community,” said Connie Ewing, president of the Mobile Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“We don’t really want people institutionalized. We support closing state hospitals. We are just not prepared yet.”
Ewing said she has a son who was hospitalized for a mental illness a few years ago. He spent time at AltaPointe’s BayPointe hospital in Mobile, and now lives in an apartment, although he is unable to work.
Ewing described a recent public meeting at which state mental health officials asked those in attendance what communities needed to be prepared to handle patients who would be moving back.
“I think everything is just so up in the air,” Ewing said. “There’s no real actual plan ... it seems kind of backward.”
Ewing said she has a friend with a son who’s been at Searcy for four years. The friend, she said, is “scared to death” that he’ll drift into harm’s way.
Beatrice McClean, Searcy’s executive director, referred questions this week to Tony Thompson, a spokesman for the Department of Mental Health. Thompson could not be reached for comment.
Not all Searcy patients would be able to leave. About 40 — many of whom were the subjects of criminal cases and insanity rulings — would remain in state care, likely at a hospital in northern Alabama, according Tuerk Schlesinger, CEO of AltaPointe, who is familiar with Searcy’s daily census.
It’s unclear whether other area hospitals, besides those owned by AltaPointe, could or would treat psychiatric patients released from Searcy.
Stan Hammack, a vice president with University of South Alabama Health Systems who oversees USA Medical Center, was on vacation last week, but offered a prepared statement through a spokesman. “Medical acute care hospitals cannot be the solution for psychiatric patients displaced by state budget problems,” he said. “The hospitals do not have the appropriate setting, security, staff or financial resources.”
Mark Nix, CEO of Infirmary Health, which operates Mobile Infirmary, Infirmary West, Thomas Hospital in Fairhope and North Baldwin Infirmary in Bay Minette, was out of the country and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Providence Hospital, located in west Mobile, is not licensed to accommodate any patient with a primary psychiatric diagnosis, according to a spokesman. Springhill Medical Center also has no beds licensed for inpatient psychiatric care.
Schlesinger expressed confidence that AltaPointe could accommodate most Searcy patients from the Mobile area, although he questioned how much funding that the state would offer.
“I think this commission is going in the right direction shutting down institutions,” Schlesinger said, noting that AltaPointe would be “glad to employ staff from the state hospital.”

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