Mental Health Center Closes

(AP) - A Hastings hospital official is concerned that if the local mental health center closes, his hospital could be overwhelmed with psychiatric patients.

Allen Bartels, director of behavioral services at Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital in Hastings, said closing the state-run Hastings Regional Center will present local private hospitals with a tough dilemma.

Hospitals may be forced to weigh their responsibility to treat all patients against the risk of hospitalizing mentally patients on floors outside the hospital's psychiatric unit.

"We don't have plans to expand for acute patients," Bartels said. "We have no space to expand on the seventh floor and there are funding issues that go with it."

But because of federal law, if a patient arrives at the hospital in a psychiatric crisis, the hospital must provide help, Bartels said.

Gov. Mike Johanns is supporting a plan that would close the mental health centers in Hastings and Norfolk. Closing the two regional centers must be done to move the state toward a system of care that is more diffused throughout the state, he has said. The idea is that the state can improve its mental health care by serving more people in their home communities.

More than 200 of the 386 people committed to the Mary Lanning Memorial's Emergency Protective Custody program between July 2002 and July 2003 were sent to the Hastings center.

Once the center is gone, beds for those people will need to be found elsewhere.

"We would place them on medical floors, which is inappropriate treatment for those patients," Bartels said.

He said that move would be akin to placing a cardiac patient in an obstetrics ward.

If the regional centers close, the only viable options are for the state to plan to build acute care centers or fund hospital expansions, Bartels said.

And making sure that the costs of psychiatric patients are covered through Medicaid is another issue.

"The state will have to find a way to fund the system or it will collapse," Bartels said.