State gives OK for psychiatric facility

PHOTO/Lisa Seifert/For the Journal
The state health and social services commissioner has granted approval for Providence Alaska Medical Center’s proposal to build a new $21 million psychiatric facility.

Providence officials are considering several sites for the facility, which must be completed by the end of 2005.

"We’ve got a lot of planning to be done now," said assistant administrator Vince Huntington.

Providence received notice March 28 of the commissioner Jay Livey’s conditional certificate of need approval following a review by the state health department.

The project would expand Providence’s mental health services to meet community needs. It would also help the hospital deal with emergencies.

The new facility will allow Providence to convert its existing 27 beds for mental-health services to medical-surgical beds. That would reduce the need to divert some emergency patients to other facilities due to a lack of rooms, said assistant administrator Susan Humphrey-Barnett.

Diversions also can occur because of lack of staff, she said.

Providence in Anchorage is certified by the state for 345 beds.

Although Providence officials originally outlined a 60-bed facility in their certificate of need application, the state approved 52 psychiatric beds with space allotted but not completed for the remaining eight beds.

Providence may license and operate those eight beds after the hospital maintains an average occupancy rate of 85 percent for two years in its beds for adolescents, state health officials concluded. They said they made the change to encourage less-intensive forms of treatment.

Alaska lacks some psychiatric services that precede inpatient care, said David Pierce, state certificate-of-need coordinator. "Because those services are not there, (patients) get inappropriately placed in the hospital," he said.

"The purpose of this is to encourage development of lower-level services like residential care and different community-based options," Pierce said.

The report cited a need for short-term residential care for children released from residential treatment centers who are adjusting to their homes and communities. "It is believed that this lack of service results in a large readmission into acute care," the report said.

During the review of Providence’s proposal, the state said a key concern was the fact that more than 400 children are sent outside Alaska every year to receive residential psychiatric care.

In fiscal year 2001, Medicaid paid for inpatient mental-health care for about 1,403 children and adolescents. Of that total, 758 were served in acute inpatient psychiatric facilities, 221 in residential care in Alaska and 424 in residential care outside the state.

The state could see additional residential treatment services in the next two years. North Star Behavioral Health System is pursuing plans to build an 18-bed hospital and 60-bed residential treatment facility for children in Wasilla.

Providence originally asked for a 60-bed psychiatric facility to treat children and adolescents, although discussions with the state led to including adult beds for designated evaluation and treatment services.

The state approved the project for 18 adult-designated evaluation and treatment beds, 10 adult voluntary beds, 16 adolescent beds and eight beds for children.

Providence administrators are pleased with the approval.

"We’re reasonably satisfied with the certificate of need," Huntington said.

A construction timeline for the new facility is still in the works. In January Providence administrators were considering six sites near the Anchorage campus. However, more sites are under study, Humphrey-Barnett said.

A site could be selected following negotiations with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the University of Alaska for land adjacent to the hospital, Huntington said.

Although project completion is several years away, state approval marks a milestone for Providence officials.

"The real value of this is it’s a very key factor in the master plan," Huntington said. "It gives us options to expand the facility."

04/14/2002 - 8:00pm