The North Dakota State Hospital Governing Board approved a recommendation to proceed with the construction of a new facility during its meeting Monday in Jamestown.
The recommendation passed with 7 votes in favor. Four members of the board were absent. Rep. Karen Rohr, R-Mandan, recused herself from the vote, saying as a member of the North Dakota Legislature, she would vote on the issue at that level.
Plans and funding for a new State Hospital facility have been introduced in each of the last two North Dakota legislative sessions. In both cases, the bill was turned into a study to determine the need for such a facility and needed capacity.
Rosalie Etherington, superintendent of the State Hospital, said the likely cost of a new facility would be between $150 million and $160 million and would probably be built on land the State Hospital already owns at its current campus.
On Monday, Etherington told the Governing Board that a new facility would allow the State Hospital to provide better care and enhance the safety of its staff.
"We do not get a better clinical outcome by fixing our current State Hospital," she said, "and a new hospital could reduce violence."
The 2021 North Dakota Legislature provided funding for the demolition of three buildings on the campus that have been condemned and provided emergency repair money for potential failures in other structures.
Carlotta McCleary, executive director of Mental Health America of North Dakota, said the state has a need for a new State Hospital.
"We've had failures of some systems and new therapeutic systems would provide benefits," she told the Governing Board Monday. "All recommendations are consistent with building a new State Hospital."
There would also be cost savings for the state, according to Donna Aukland, fiscal coordinator for the North Dakota State Hospital.
"The longer this is delayed, it costs more to fix the existing State Hospital and it costs more to build," she said. "From a pure fiscal perspective, it is advantageous to build a new State Hospital."
Any decision on building a new State Hospital facility is a ways off, according to Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, and the North Dakota House majority leader.
"The state hospital facility construction will be a 2023 legislative session discussion," he said, in an email response for comment. "The whole process will need to be vetted by both chambers and needs discussion."
Pollert said the decision-making process by the Legislature could be lengthy and "not something that could be done in four to eight days."
If a new State Hospital facility is constructed, the existing buildings would be offered to the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation which already operates the James River Correctional Center in some buildings previously utilized as a part of the State Hospital. Any building that could not be utilized as a part of the prison system would likely be demolished.