Providence looks to expand mental health services

Providence Alaska Medical Center officials are planning to build a $25 million, 60-bed psychiatric facility in Anchorage. The hospital has applied to the state Department of Health and Social Services for approval.

The state must determine a need for health care facilities before construction.

The project would expand Providence’s mental health services to meet community needs for children 12 and younger, said Susan Humphrey-Barnett, assistant administrator. In Anchorage, Alaska Psychiatric Institute doesn’t serve that age group, although North Star Behavioral Health System does, she said.

Alaskans send some adolescents, age 13 to 18, out of state for long-term care since these types of residential care facilities are available outside Alaska, she said.

A new facility would be built off campus and allow Providence to convert its existing 27 mental health services beds to medical/surgical beds, thereby decreasing the need to divert some emergency patients to other facilities because rooms aren’t available, she said. Diversions have also been caused by a lack of qualified hospital staff, she said.

"Both the mental health needs of the community would be served through this, and the diversion, although it would not necessarily be solved, but could be ameliorated," Humphrey-Barnett said.

The project could be completed in 2004, according to a state public notice.

Providence in Anchorage is certified by the state for 345 patient beds. The new certification would increase that total to 405 beds, including the mental health care beds.

Planning for the facility traces its roots back several years when hospital officials looked to move some ancillary services off campus, Humphrey-Barnett said. The goal was to gain more medical/surgical beds. They next studied what patient services could be relocated and chose mental health services.

Last summer Providence submitted a certificate of need application to the state health department for approval of a 60-bed child/adolescent psychiatric facility, Humphrey-Barnett said.

After submitting the application, Providence and state health officials discussed the possibility of the hospital starting designated evaluation and treatment services, she said. This type of evaluation and treatment for all ages is involuntary and often is a court-ordered process, she said.

The hospitals in Fairbanks and Juneau provide these services, and the state wanted a hospital in Anchorage to provide them as well, she said.

Based on these discussions Providence chose to alter plans for the facility. Although the number of beds will remain the same, fewer beds will be used for children and adolescents. Of the 60 beds, 18 will be designated evaluation and treatment beds, the existing 10-bed adult unit will be moved to the new facility, and 24 beds will be designated for adolescents and eight for children.

At Providence’s current 27-bed unit, 11 beds are for adults and 16 are for adolescents.

Public comments on the project change were due Jan. 26, and officials from the Department of Health and Social Services were to review the project through Feb. 12. Next the department commissioner would issue a decision on the certificate of need application, Humphrey-Barnett said.

As part of the planning process, Providence officials have selected six possible sites near the Anchorage campus, she said.

Further planning, including site selection and design, could begin after hospital officials receive approval from the state, she said.

Although the facility, if approved, would be certified for 60 beds, Providence may choose to start with fewer beds and eventually expand, said hospital spokeswoman Karina Jennings.

01/27/2002 - 8:00pm