State Hospital board ponders next budgetThe Governing Board of the North Dakota State Hospital heard a report from Alex Schweitzer, superintendent, on the facility’s budget proposal for the 2009 to 2011 biennium during its regular quarterly meeting Wednesday.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
The Governing Board of the North Dakota State Hospital heard a report from Alex Schweitzer, superintendent, on the facility’s budget proposal for the 2009 to 2011 biennium during its regular quarterly meeting Wednesday.
The State Hospital budget is part of the statewide budget submitted to the Legislature by Gov. John Hoeven earlier this month.
The budget for the traditional services portion of the State Hospital is proposed at $59.5 million. That is an increase of $7.3 million from the current biennium.
“We are looking at adding six full-time equivalent positions to the staff,” Schweitzer said. “That reflects the trend over the past years for the hospital to be running at 100 to 105 percent of capacity compared to the 80 to 85 percent we saw a few years back.”
Major components of the budget increase include a salary increase line item of $2.3 million, increases in utility costs of more than $300,000 and an increase in costs of prescription drugs of more than $500,000.
The State Hospital’s budget for the Secured Services Unit, also referred to as the sex offender unit, shows a decrease of $2.2 million for the upcoming biennium. The unit has a proposed budget of $10.4 million compared to a $12.6 million in the current biennium.
“The reduced budget reflects that we didn’t build or staff a fifth unit in the Secured Services Unit,” Schweitzer said. “Currently we have about 57 or 58 residents in the unit with a capacity of 85.”
The State Hospital also budgets separately for improvements and repairs in the amount of $4.1 million. This includes repairs to buildings and grounds, equipment purchases of items of more than $5,000 and a bond payment on a previous debt.
“I’m fairly comfortable with the amount of money put into the budget by the governor,” Schweitzer said.
In other reports the board received an update on the hospital’s Tobacco Free Environment Plan from Sue Olson, plan coordinator. The plan was first approved in 2007 and will take effect on Jan. 1, 2008.
“As time has gone along patients and staff have become more accepting of the plan,” Olson said. “We’re doing all we can to make this an easy transition.”
During the past two years the number of cigarettes allowed per patient has been lowered to two per day, Olson said. After Jan. 1 staff members will not be allowed to smoke anywhere on the grounds and any cigarettes found will be treated as contraband.
“I think the patients are handling this better than staff,” Schweitzer said. “If they come back from a break smelling of smoke, how do we deal with it? We won’t come down with a heavy club but talk to them about how it impacts patients but repeated violations would become a human resources issue.”
Schweitzer said about 75 percent of people with mental health problems smoke and that smoking is a major contributor to their life expectancy being about 20 years shorter than the national average.
The board also heard reports on two pieces of legislation being proposed by the North Dakota Department of Human Services and supported by the State Hospital.
The first would change the process for screening patients before admission to the State Hospital. The intent is to assure that patients receive care at the least restrictive level and in their home community if possible, Schweitzer said.
The second one would change the classification of the crime of assaulting a State Hospital employee to a class C felony. Currently assaulting a corrections officer in a prison is a class C felony while assaulting an employee in the State Hospital is a class B misdemeanor. The bill would give State Hospital employees equal protection under the law.
The next meeting of the State Hospital Governing Board will be in March with an exact date set to avoid conflict with the North Dakota legislative session.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by e-mail at email@example.com