The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

September 5, 2008

State may get new 148-bed mental hospital

CHARLESTON — A new 148-bed psychiatric hospital in Beckley is one of the options the state is exploring to ease overcrowding in its two acute care mental health facilities.

The options are included in a letter from the attorney general’s office that was obtained Friday by The Associated Press. The letter, dated Aug. 27, was sent to David Sudbeck, the state ombudsman for behavioral health, who released a report in July detailing crowded conditions at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington.

The letter says the state Department of Health and Human Resources “has made great strides” in trying to stay within the two hospitals’ capacity of 240 beds, but that factors ranging from an aging population to a rise in substance abuse-related commitments have made it impossible in recent years to avoid some crowding.

One of the options is the possibility of a hospital in Beckley, for which the letter says Appalachian Regional Hospital is preparing a certificate of need application. A call to Appalachian Regional Healthcare, the hospital’s parent company, was not immediately returned.

Other possibilities under discussion include using 30 beds at a Highland Hospital facility to be built in Charleston and using the recently closed Vocational Rehabilitation Center in Institute.

But one advocate said the focus on adding new beds to acute care hospitals is distracting from the larger question of long-term solutions.

“They’re looking for a quick fix instead of looking at why we have the problem in the first place,” said Clarice Hausch, director of West Virginia Advocates, which works on behalf of disabled residents. Hausch wants to see more resources devoted to outpatient care.

“I’m not hearing any conversation at all about what services people can get when they get out of the hospital,” she said.

The state is reviewing a number of options, including those discussed in the letter, but has not committed to a single approach yet, DHHR spokesman John Law said.

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