Study on placing hospital under prison system gets do-not-pass recommendationA resolution written to study the possibility of transferring the facilities and property of the North Dakota State Hospital from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation received a 5-1 do not pass recommendation in the Senate Human Services Committee today.
By: Katie Ryan, The Jamestown Sun
A resolution written to study the possibility of transferring the facilities and property of the North Dakota State Hospital from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation received a 5-1 do not pass recommendation in the Senate Human Services Committee today.
If passed, the State Hospital facility would still serve patients who were receiving treatment as part of their prison sentence, but all other mental health patients would receive treatment at their community hospitals, said Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, who introduced the bill.
The study would see if the state’s mental health patients would be better served in their community hospitals as opposed to the state facility, he said.
If passed, the Department of Human Services would consider contracting with community hospitals for treatment services so patients could receive treatment at community hospitals, he said. Getting help closer to home aids the treatment process, he said, and the state wouldn’t lose any jobs.
“There’s plenty of work for every one of them,” he said.
Mathern also argued that under the current setup, the State Hospital location next door to the James River Correctional Center adds to the social stigma of metal health patients, and no other illness is treated that way. For example, the state doesn’t have a separate facility specifically for breast cancer, he said.
“It’s basically saying, it’s a different category and it shouldn’t be,” he said.
Susan Helgeland, executive director of Mental Health America, said her organization agrees.
“It (the neighboring facilities) has the feeling of we’re going back to the days of when we did lock people up for mental illness,” she said.
Mental Health America, which works for better services, education advocacy and awareness for people with mental health, is against the co-location of the State Hospital and the James River Correctional Center.
“There’s already stigma, I mean, that’s been there,” she said. “And we’re trying to lessen that.”
But some patients who require mental health services don’t have treatment options in their communities, said Alex Schweitzer, superintendent of the North Dakota State Hospital, who opposed the resolution.
The State Hospital serves as the inpatient psychiatric facility for serious cases in Jamestown, Devils Lake and Dickinson, he said.
And, the average length of stay for a typical inpatient at the State Hospital in 2008 was 75.5 days, Schweitzer said.
“It’s doubtful, that a community hospital would serve a persistent mentally ill patient for this average length of stay,” he said in his testimony.
Of the 816 patients the hospital admitted in 2008, 304 of them were from private North Dakota hospitals. Not all patients are best served there, Schweitzer said. Also, the State Hospital provides a “safety net,” he said, for patients who can’t afford the treatment or who can be violent or disruptive.
But some people with cancer or other illnesses have problems paying for their treatment too, Mathern said, and the state has found ways to help them.
“Then we solve that problem. You have the same problem in every illness,” he said.
The Senate is expected to vote on the issue within the next few days, Mathern said.
Sun reporter Katie Ryan can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at email@example.com