Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Bentley Halts Construction on Psychiatric Facility

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Bentley Halts Construction on Psychiatric Facility

Article excerpt

MONTGOMERY | The Alabama Department of Mental Health's plan to close hospitals and shift most patients to community-based care is on an indefinite timeline, Gov. Robert Bentley said Wednesday.

Bentley said his decision to suspend construction of the replacement facility for Bryce Hospital could affect the implementation of the plan, but that the move to transfer patients from hospitals to community settings will continue.

Construction of the replacement psychiatric hospital, however, might not resume, he said. Bentley, who halted construction of the hospital two weeks ago, said he would reassess the need for the new $73 million facility, given the department's plan, partly due to financial constraints, to restructure the delivery of mental health services.

"We wanted to stop the construction right now so that we can make a decision if we want to put all that money in brick or mortar or put all that money into really creating a first-class outpatient system across the state," Bentley told members of the Department of Mental Health's advisory board.

In mid-February, state Mental Health Commissioner Zelia Baugh announced the department's restructuring plan, which includes closing four of the state's six mental health hospitals, laying off 948 mental health department employees and moving about 470 patients to community-based care.

Under the plan, the existing Bryce Hospital would remain open until the replacement hospital is built. But the plan also changes the purpose of the new hospital, which was scheduled to open in May 2013, from an inpatient psychiatric facility for adults to a facility for court-committed -- or forensic -- patients, who now are held at Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa.

The plan calls for eventually closing Taylor Hardin, as well as mental health hospitals in Decatur, Montgomery and Mount Vernon. The Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatry Center in Tuscaloosa would remain open.

Baugh originally set a Sept. 30 deadline to implement the changes in anticipation of steep budget cuts in the coming fiscal year, but Bentley later suspended that date.

"We're not making any permanent decisions right now until we look at how everything would fit together," Bentley said after the advisory board meeting. "(Construction of the replacement hospital) was stopped simply because we don't want to spend money if we decide that is not the route we need."

Tony Thompson, the assistant to Baugh, said patient assessments and evaluations of community-based treatment plans are continuing.

"Even though we don't have a hard deadline, there will still be assessments," Thompson said.

Bentley told board members that he still wants to de- institutionalize patient care as quickly as possible, but that it would take time to build the necessary infrastructure across the state, including plans for 16-bed regional homes and crisis centers, possibly in hospitals. …

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