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New State Hospital would improve patient outcomes, staff satisfaction

A request to build a new North Dakota State Hospital was made during the last legislative session and was in the governor’s budget

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North Dakota State Hospital Superintendent Rosalie Etherington talks about the need for a new State Hospital.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
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A new North Dakota State Hospital will improve patient outcomes, staff satisfaction and retention and provide a safer place for care, according to Rosalie Etherington, superintendent of the State Hospital.

“We need a new State Hospital because this one is very old, very antiquated,” Etherington said.

A request to build a new State Hospital was made during the last legislative session and was in the governor’s budget, she said. A consultant hired about a year ago will give a report to the Acute Psychiatric Committee on April 5.

“After that report, I do anticipate that the recommendation will be to build,” she said. “Then we are very hopeful that the committee will endorse a new hospital, and we do plan on building a new hospital into our next budget, which would then go to the legislative body in January.”

Etherington said if construction for a new hospital is funded after the next legislative session, the design phase could begin in 2023. She said a space-needs study was already done to find the square-footage needs based on all hospital and residential services.

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She said the State Hospital researched what the design would be. She said specialty designs are needed because the State Hospital does forensic work that requires forensic unit that is different from other units.

Etherington said services at the State Hospital include treatment for psychiatric, residential addiction and high-risk sex offenders. She said the hospital also serves those with acute care needs and provides psychosocial rehabilitative services.

“We provide individuals with services to help them restore their capacity to get and keep a job, restore their capacity to socialize in the community, take part in typical community events and return to their homes,” she said.

The State Hospital is also the only forensic hospital in the state.

If funded, the State Hospital could co-locate near Jamestown Regional Medical Center but a few other locations have also been proposed. She said one potential location could be west of State Hospital Road on the north side of a field on state land.

“We need a place that is separate enough from the prison so that we don’t see a prison in our backyard,” Etherington said. “But yet exactly where that would be is not yet chosen and it’s going to have to depend on the surveying of the land.”

The original cost estimate of $69 million in 2019 was only to replace the Lahaug building and keeping the other services at their current location. In 2021, a request was made to replace everything and build one larger building that includes hospital and residential services together, which would roughly cost $153 million.

Etherington said it’s time to demolish buildings, use only what is used and build a new State Hospital with lots of trees and gardens.

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The original State Hospital was built in 1885 on the newest design at the time, a cottage design built as a small city with lots of smaller Victorian buildings for treatment.

She said research shows that large facilities with long hallways and dingy lighting are the opposite of what makes people get better.

“When people don’t have natural light it takes them longer to lift depression, to get calm, to heal and not only from the psychiatric perspective but from the medical perspective too,” Etherington said. “Experts also know now too that medical facilities should also be more healing because people get better faster both physically and mentally.”

She said the current State Hospital was built in the late 1970s and early 1980s on the old design with long narrow hallways and patient bedrooms without much of a window similar to a correctional facility.

Because of the specialized services that are offered at the State Hospital, patients need space for socialization and vocational space for those who are trying to get back to work, she said.

She said patient care is done in three buildings across the campus, and it takes a lot of staff to provide care for everyone.

“They have to run quite a distance when they have emergencies, and we have to separate some of the social space and the vocational space from the living space,” she said. "It’s also not very conducive for patients that are really acute.”

The State Hospital is also the premier training hospital in the state, Etherington said.

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Beth Satrom, director of clinical nursing, said about 250 nursing students will come through the State Hospital this fall to get hands-on experience. She said students who come to the State Hospital feel welcomed and part of a team and are given opportunities to learn and ask questions.

Etherington said the State Hospital provides about 15,000 hours of education every year to a variety of students, including nursing, from around the state.

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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