State Hospital considers smaller operation

JSSP Health

The results of a study of the North Dakota State Hospital operations and facilities indicate a new and smaller facility would better serve the state of North Dakota, according to Rosalie Etherington, superintendent of the State Hospital.

Etherington told the State Hospital Governing Board Monday that the capacity of a new facility should be between 75 and 85 beds if six to 10 beds could be added in western North Dakota.

Currently, the State Hospital provides care for more than 200 patients including substance abuse treatment, mental health issues and the sex offender program. Care for those patients is spread among five buildings with a separate coal-fired heating plant and surrounded by 357 acres of grounds.

It is the number and age of those buildings that are among issues facing the State Hospital, Etherington said.

"The patient care buildings are ill-equipped for modern care," she said. "... we spend a lot of attention in maintaining our current campus."


Etherington said 82% of the support systems for the buildings, things like water, sewer and heating systems, were past their normal life expectancy.

"They still work, they just require more effort," she said.

A bill had been introduced in the 2019 North Dakota Legislature to provide $35 million for the construction of a new State Hospital building. During debate, the bill was amended to study the needs and determine the necessary capacity for any potential new State Hospital facility.

Etherington said the study concluded that other forms of psychiatric care could be used to shorten or prevent inpatient hospital stays. This included integrating more mental health care into the conventional health care system and wider use of regional mental health facilities.

"We need to make sure the other services are being used before the hospital beds can be downsized," she said.

The presentation to the State Hospital Governing Board did not include any projected costs for a new State Hospital facility or the costs of bringing the current facility up to date. Either option would require an appropriation from the North Dakota Legislature.

Etherington said the next steps for the State Hospital would include attempting to contract with existing private facilities in western North Dakota to provide bed capacity for the State Hospital system and formulate a building budget that meets the needs of the study for submission to the Legislature.

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